Older drivers are no more dangerous than younger drivers on the road, but could be at risk as pedestrians, according to a new study.
Dr Charles Musselwhite of Swansea University’s Centre for Innovative Ageing says that older are not dangerous, and testing them will not make the roads safer, contrary to popular belief. A review of countries with stricter tests for older drivers shows little difference in collision rates for older drivers, suggesting it makes little long term difference to driver behaviour.
Dr Musselwhite says that as the population is ageing, it is crucial we re-think road safety policy for older people and explore new solutions as soon as possible.
“My research suggests that while people think older people are dangerous on the road – they aren’t,” he said. “People also think testing old people will make the roads safer – it won’t.”
Dr Musselwhite’s research also highlighted the vulnerability of older people as pedestrians. While older people make up just 19 per cent of pedestrian activity, they account for 40 per cent of pedestrian deaths and 21 per cent of people killed or serious injured. The pedestrian environment can be unsafe for older people as badly maintained pavements, or those poorly looked after in icy or slippery conditions can reduce the ability for older people to get out and about. Also, road crossings are not designed with older people in mind as they do not allow enough time to cross.
As part of his research Dr Musselwhite looked at statistics that suggest that older people are more likely to be killed or seriously injured in road incidents. Research into fragility and frailty could provide an explanation for these increases, as older people are more likely to be a casualty of their collision because of their susceptibility to injury.
His research also found that alternatives to driving must be improved to safeguard older people who are forced to give up driving, as this lifestyle change is associated with a huge deterioration in health and wellbeing, including: depression, feelings of stress and isolation.
However, technology such as driverless cards could have a role in helping to make a smoother transition to giving up driving. There is also evidence that those people who adapt well after giving up driving are those who have planned it and begin to look at alternative transport.
Dr Musselwhite said: “While the promise of driverless cars is a long way off, there is a need to look how technology can support, improve or replace driving for older people. For example, technologies that take over some or most of the driving might help overcome some of the issues older drivers face, which could present new opportunities providing the technology is easily maintained.”