Driving safely: the facts for seniors

Driving safely: the facts for seniors

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Older drivers, in good health, are not riskier drivers. Drivers over the age of 65 may be more at risk on our roads. Compulsory driver testing for renewal of driving licences is not a requirement in Victoria. The onus for assessing your driving capability, your level of responsiveness to impending road hazards, and the ability to manage driving related risks, to yourself and others, is on you.

If you are over 65, in good overall health, and have a record of being a safe driver, keep driving safely and enjoy the freedom it brings.

The goal of this article is to share some of the facts about driving when physical and psychological health is not optimum, and to help you assess your level of risk on the road.

Freedom and independence carries significant responsibility

Driving a car, motorbike or any engine powered vehicle opens up many possibilities for us, every day. Driving is a freedom we should never take for granted because of the weighty responsibility that accompanies such a privilege.

Sharing the roads safely with other drivers, passengers and pedestrians requires the high level of focus and alertness associated with optimum physiological and psychological health.

Seniors’ health and driving safely

As soon as our health deteriorates so too does our responsiveness on the roads. Think about the last time you suffered a head cold, and drove. One sneeze or a feeling of fogginess suddenly adds risk you didn’t have before.

Most of us can comprehend why driving while affected by alcohol, or legal or illegal drugs or pharmaceuticals, can be dangerous. We know how chemical induced changes can slow down responsiveness and impair quick, sound decision making. So why should we even consider being in control of a motor vehicle, when we have a short term health hiccup, or a longer term physical, neurological or psychological impairment or illness?

What happens to our health and road safety as we age?

Risky driving behaviour increases the risk of accidents in younger drivers. For drivers over 65, increasing frailty and health issues associated with ageing contribute to putting older drivers at risk.

According to the Transport Accident Commission (TAC), drivers aged 75 and over, inherently carry a higher risk per distance travelled of fatality due to a motor vehicle accident than other age groups.

For over 65s dedicated to maintaining good physical and mental health, that haven’t been affected by disability or health conditions, managing risks on the road is within your capability. Keep driving safely.

Fragile bodies and neurological changes that often come with ageing can progressively place older drivers at risk. Health concerns associated with ageing can include:

  • deterioration of clarity in vision, spatial awareness and hearing
  • slowing of reflexes and reaction times
  • loss of muscle strength, bone density and flexibility.

Medical conditions that could impact your ability to manage risks while on the road include:

  • influence and side effects of prescribed medications
  • illness
  • disability
  • cardiovascular health, including blood pressure
  • conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, progressed dementia or alzheimers, anxiety, muscular-skeletal, progressed neurological disorders or conditions impacting movement such as Parkinson’s.

Ageing and its impact on our physical and mental health is a fact of the cycle of life. As our bodies become more fragile, it takes less force to cause tissue, bone or organ damage.  Ageing bodies may be less able to recover from injuries, requiring longer hospital stays and rehabilitation.

While we are living longer, healthier, more active lives and many of us can slow down the ageing process, we are also driving and sharing the roads for many more years than past generations.

How will physical, neurological or mental health affect my drivers licence?

TAC know too well of the many devastating stories of road related trauma related to a decline in health, and road fatality statistics. According to Herald Sun journalists Aleks Devic and Jesse Wray-McCann in an article published on 20 June 2015, in the past financial year – 21,104 Victorians had their licences suspended or cancelled after failing a VicRoads medical assessment. Of these, seniors make up more than 70 per cent.

In Victoria, once your reach 75 years of age, at VicRoads discretion, you are granted a recurring three year licence, instead of 10 years. In the absence of mandatory testing, self-awareness, regular medical check-ups and feedback from friends, associates and families is important.

If you become aware of a health condition that could impact driving, it is your responsibility to decide a course of action to keep you, and others sharing the road with you, safe.

Here are some facts from VicRoads for older drivers, or drivers experiencing health concerns:

  • If you become aware of a long-term or permanent physical or mental condition that may affect your driving, you have a legal obligation to notify VicRoads. Your medical practitioner can advise you.
  • Medical practitioners, including occupational therapists, can make recommendations to VicRoads, on your behalf, about amending your driver’s licence conditions for safety.
  • If a medical practitioner is unsure, they can recommend you enrol with VicRoads for a driving assessment.

If a driving assessment is needed, an on-road test facilitated by VicRoads can be arranged from your home. This ensures you are tested in a familiar area. Sometimes a local restriction may be imposed by VicRoads based on the outcomes of your driving test.

You may get to keep your licence as it is or you may have a restricted licence imposed on you for your, and others, safety. Your licence may be immediately suspended if you fail the driving test. If this is the case, you may just have gained a decade more of life, and saved the lives of others.

No driver’s licence? No car? Independent living options aplenty.

If you do need to surrender your driver’s licence, the good news is that among an ageing population, there are many convenient lifestyle options available so you can maintain your freedom and independence.

A retirement village lifestyle for example, means being conveniently located to everything you need – including easy access to social activities and transport. A quality retirement village will provide a village bus that runs regularly to local shopping strips or centres.

Assessing your fitness to drive on a regular basis keeps the privilege, freedom and independence of driving, in your hands. You don’t want loved ones to worry endlessly about your being on the roads. Stay self-aware, and keep driving safely.

A list of helpful resources and information for older drivers in Victoria

Alzheimer’s Australia > Dementia and driving – a whole range of helpful factsheets and information is available on this website.

Austroads > Assessing fitness to drive – information for drivers of private vehicles, and medical practitioners.

Herald Sun article – Record numbers of elderly drivers banished from Victorian Roads

Independent Living Centre Australia > Information on driving modifications and equipment available

RACV > Seniors Driver Program – this program aims to provide professional advice about your driving ability.

VicRoads > Victorian Older Drivers Handbook can be ordered online

Transport Accident Commission (TAC) > Safe driving for older drivers

Transport Accident Commission (TAC) > Older driver’s checklist

Transport Accident Commission (TAC) > Older driver statistics

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