Why we should support our older motorists rather than drive them off the road

30th January 2019

The Duke of Edinburgh’s car crash this month in has put the debate about older motorists and whether they should be entitled to drive firmly back in the spotlight. Prince Philip, who is a keen motorist, crashed his Land Rover into a Kia while driving out near Sandringham Estate.

The Duke, who claimed he was blinded by sunlight, was left unharmed but the woman behind the wheel of the Kia that his car smashed into suffered a broken arm. Her baby that was sat in the rear seat was also unharmed. There were no fatalities as a result of the accident.

Few have questioned or raised any concern about the the Duke of Edinburgh’s driving capabilities in previous years. Just a few years ago Prince Philip was photographed driving the world’s most powerful man (President Obama) around along with the Queen and Obama’s wife, Michelle.

It’s clear that the Prince was keen for things to get back to normality as quickly as possible. Following the crash, it was reported that he was issued with another Land Rover and that he was back in the driver’s seat.

In spite of his vast experience there were many that called for him to stay out of the driver’s seat and opt instead to be chauffeured around. He can, after all, afford it. However, no one made a fuss when he was driving the President of the United States around, but just three years on and at the age of 97 people are arguing whether the Duke and others of a similar age should be on the road at all.

Organisations have lined up, to provide solutions to this ‘problem’. They seem concerned about the potential ‘danger’ that older drivers could pose, particularly if they don’t get their health checked.

A problem in plain sight

In response to the accident, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) has created a national eyesight awareness campaign to raise awareness of the minimum standards required for driving and the AA as welcomed the move.

One would be forgiven for thinking that there would be some resistance to the move, considering the fact that it could be seen to be a knee-jerk reaction to the Duke of Edinburgh’s crash. But the opposite appears to be true.

Research conducted by the AA (Automobile Association) Task Force found that there is significant support (48%) overall for the concept of compulsory eyesight for all drivers every two years. The strongest support comes from young drivers. More than half (51%) aged 18-24, thought this was an essential initiative.

Meanwhile, the proposal to introduce compulsory eyesight tests from age 70 is overwhelmingly supported by both young and old. It was found that nine out of 10 young drivers (93%) thought that older drivers should have their eyes tested in order to maintain their license.

But instead of disagreeing, older drivers (aged 65+) agreed, with nearly three-quarters (72%) saying so. However, there were more older motorists that agreed to having compulsory eye tests introduced for those aged 80 and above – here 89% of them agreed that this was a good idea.

While the insurance industry has not said that older drivers should be forced off the road, some providers certainly do make life a little difficult for them when it comes to premiums which indicates that they deem older motorists a risk on the road.

Many elderly people complain that premiums are too high and there is research out there to back their claims. Two years ago, researched by comparethemarket.com showed that the premium paid by older drivers reached an average of £398. At the time, it added that drivers over the age of 50 have seen their premium increase by £40 over the last twelve months.

With high premiums and calls for them to take a back seat, we could see more elderly people becoming more dependent on their relatives or friends to take them shopping and to see the sites. This would be a shame really as I know of a lot of older people that value their independence and the fact that they are not reliant on someone to take them around on their daily errands. But high costs and a skeptical public could put and end to this.

Are driverless cars the solution?

So, is there a possible solution that could meet both concerned parties halfway? The answer could lie in a subject that we’ve blogged about before – driverless car technology. Just two years ago it was claimed that this technology could help nearly 1.2 million motorists over the age of 75 back behind the wheel.

Research conducted by Direct Line at the time showed that older drivers didn’t mind having to resort to driverless car technology to chauffer them around. The direct insurer found that over 560,000 older drivers would welcome technology that drives the car for them.

Autonomous vehicles would put power back in their hands. What’s more, it would also give them the ability to handle any road or weather condition without the need for driver intervention. Direct Line pointed out that the likes of Google, BMW, Fiat Chrysler and Tesla were all developing such vehicles.

The research also showed that driverless cars could play a key role in preventing those aged over 75 from feeling socially isolated when they are no longer legally allowed to drive themselves. When asked how being unable to drive would affect them, 72% of over 75s felt that it would hinder their independence, 69% said that it would limit their ability to see friends and family and 57% stated it would lead to them feeling isolated and lonely.

Driverless cars could be a god-send to the millions of elderly motorists that still want to keep their independence. What’s more, they could also provide the solution to the high car insurance premiums that older drivers have to pay. With the driver (person) being taken out of the equation and the risk therefore reduced, could insurers really argue that an expensive premium needs to be attached when age is not a factor?

We’re all getting older…

The fact is that the insurance industry would be foolish to ignore the older people in our society. According to the Office for National Statistics in mid-2017 the population of the UK was estimated at 66 million people – its largest ever. We’re expected to increase to a staggering 73 million. It’s an aging population with around 18.2% aged 65 years or over (stats for mid-2017) compared with 15.9% in 2007.

By 2027, it’s expected that 20.7% of the population will be aged 65 and over. By following such projections it’s entirely plausible that we’ll have more than a quarter of UK residents aged over 65 years or over within the next 50 years.

We are a growing, aging population that’s living longer thanks to advancements in technology and medicine. Dis-allowing such a large chunk of the population the ability to drive and embrace their independence just sounds heartless and not well thought out.

It’s not only the elderly with poor eye-sight that we should consider though. It’s the paraplegics and quadriplegics – the people of any age that find it hard to get around and that can’t currently driver or that would have their premiums boosted to higher levels if they tried that we need to think about.

There are lots of insurance companies and brokers that are continuously innovating and finding new schemes to launch, particularly servicing niche areas. Perhaps it’s time to bear future developments in driverless technology in mind so we can ensure that our elderly and others that can’t drive keep their independence.

Many elderly people have worked hard over the years and looked after their families. They deserve our gratitude and even some latitude when it comes to driving, provided of course it doesn’t endanger them or others.

We will all, after all, become older one day and will want to treasure the exhilarating feeling that driving gives us (provided we're not in a traffic jam) for as long as humanly possible. 




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