Two months on from the publication of ‘Driving Choices for the Older Motorist: The role of self-assessment tools’ and one expert seminar later, what have we learnt? Where next for this important subject?
A recent RAC Foundation seminar attended by 30 delegates from Industry, Government, Academia and NGOS as well as consumer service and advice groups discussed how policy and/or research could be developed to the advantage of older drivers. The discussions from this seminar are summarised both in the info graphic above and the bullet points below.
Consensus was largely for the following:
- Adopting a positive view of driving in older age. Enabling people to drive safely for longer was considered important, despite the frequency of public debates on restrictions and licence removal. Older drivers often fear being told that they can no longer drive and it was thought that the language of the debate needs to be more user- friendly, focusing on enabling comfortable driving and its associated practicalities. Voluntary adaptations to vehicles and training to improve driver confidence could well help with this re-orientation. Helping older drivers seek out information and other options before giving up driving looks to be an important area for further work, especially given the large and real cost to society of people stopping driving too soon.
- Encouraging medical professionals in their important role: GPs and medical professionals were thought to have a vital role in this area which needs support and encouragement. It is essential that GPs are up to speed with notifiable conditions through better knowledge of the DVLA ‘At a Glance Guide’, although balancing the delicate and important nature of doctor patient relationships was recognised. Self-assessment tools are likely to be something that GPs would feel comfortable recommending given they go with the grain of doctor, patient and family relationships. This provides an additional reason for validating self-assessment tools as discussed in the ‘Driving Choices’ report. Opticians are another important medical practitioner group who act as a trusted source of advice and information for drivers, who need to be fully engaged in the discussions.
- Keeping licence renewal at 70, with some minor alterations: Numerous changes have been suggested for the driving licence renewal system from age 70 onwards. Introducing the requirement to submit an optical certificate alongside driving licence renewals has been discussed for many years. This would have administrative implications, but some benefits also. The overall cost benefit of such a policy change would need to be fully scrutinised.
- Supporting driving licence notification system(s): A significant number older driver licence queries from family members, doctors and the police are received by DVLA every year. The UK Forum of Mobility Centres also receives many referrals and provides support for clients who undergo health checks; formalised assessment(s) and driver training. Today’s licensing rules were considered effective in helping to identify a proportion of unsafe drivers on the road network, although more could undoubtedly be done.
- Providing information and support on alternatives to the car: When driving is no longer desirable or appropriate, it is important that older motorists are confident in their ability to access alternatives. Alternatives were thought to encompass liftsharing and traditional alternative transport mode provision, but there is also scope for innovative schemes, such as trading cars for mobility credits as is seen in the US.
- Developing self-assessment tools to support driving decisions: Driving fitness amongst the country’s ageing population is a growing issue. Self-assessment tools could assist in the future. If this were to happen, further tool refinement and validation would be needed. Change blindness, hazard perception and situational awareness are important missing elements within existing tools, which would need to be further researched and incorporated. If robust self-assessment tools were developed the problem remains that self-assessment tools on their own do not do the complete job needed for keeping people safe and mobile. Questions remain around the delivery of future tools. In particular, issues around consistency, standardisation, deliverability and funding either by local authorities or other commercial ventures.
Given that of all UK citizens alive today, it is predicted that around ten million will reach their 100th birthday, older drivers will remain an important discussion point and topic. The RAC Foundation is currently working with PACTS, the DfT and Ricability to develop an information booklet which will provide further support and advice to older drivers. We hope this will be one of many forthcoming initiatives, developed by both ourselves and others, to help support safe mobility in older age.
For further information on RAC Foundation research on older drivers please visit www.racfoundation.org