Should elderly drivers have to re-take their driving test?

As more and more drivers over 70 take to the roads, the debate is hotting up over whether older drivers should be forced to re-take their driving tests.

Thirty years ago only 1 in 3 men and 1 in every 20 women over 70 held a driver's licence.

Today that figure is closer to three quarters of men and a third of women, and the number of over 70s on Britain's roads is likely to double over the next 20 years.

There are many options being discussed for just how to ensure the safety of older drivers, including:

  • imposing restrictions on when people can drive
  • encouraging older drivers to go on a refresher course
  • making it compulsory for all drivers above a certain age to re-take their test

Despite being backed by many well-known figures, including former racing driver Stirling Moss, any interest groups have argued that a compulsory test for drivers over 70 would be unfair – after all, there are plenty of so-called dangerous drivers in younger age groups too.

The most recent advice issued to the government proposed offering refresher courses to older drivers so they can brush up on their skills.

It's something that's already being offered by some local authorities, although uptake has been slow as many drivers think they'll be re-tested as part of the process.

The current rules for older drivers

Under the current UK licensing system, drivers over 70 need to apply to renew their licence and complete a self-declaration of fitness to drive, although they don't have to complete a test.

They then have to re-apply for their licence every 3 years.

One criticism often levelled at the current system is that the UK driving licence is ‘all or nothing' so once granted, the holder is entitled to drive anywhere in Europe and the wider world – assuming they have an international driving licence.

This differs from the systems in the US and Australia where drivers are restricted as to where they can drive once they reach a certain age.

Are older drivers more dangerous?

According to the Institute of Advanced Motorists, the safest age group for driving is 50-59, while younger drivers still have more accidents on the road.

However, that doesn't take into account the fact that drivers over the age of 70 are still very much a minority on UK roads.

There is some evidence to suggest older people are in fact more dangerous on the roads.

One recent study found older drivers were overrepresented in crashes involving more than one car, suggesting they have difficulty interacting with other cars on the road.

Accidents involving older drivers typically happen at intersections where drivers are turning against oncoming traffic. In comparison, collisions involving younger drivers show factors such as speeding, deliberate recklessness, and loss of control.

There are many potential reasons for this, including the deterioration of faculties such as sight and reaction speeds as people get older, but there's still no conclusive proof to show why these accidents are more common.

It's important to remember too that older drivers are also at risk themselves. Older drivers tend to be frailer so when they do have an accident – much like when they fall over or suffer other injuries – the damage tends to be more serious.

So making sure they are safe when on the roads is as much about their well being as that of other road users.