Older drivers ‘safe’ compared with other age groups

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Older drivers are no more dangerous than other road users, a new study claims.

Research by Swansea University’s Centre for Innovative Ageing says that older people are relatively safe compared with other age groups.

According to the latest Department for Transport figures, there are around 4.5 million people aged 70 or over in the UK with a full driving licence - 230 of whom are 100 years old or over.

And with senior citizens more likely to have a range of health problems and slower reaction times, there has been plenty of heated debate on the issue.

But during a presentation at the British Science Festival in Swansea, Dr Charles Musselwhite argued that testing older drivers would not make the roads any safer.

He said while reaction times decreased as people got older, this was compensated by older drivers taking more care on the road.

Dr Musselwhite said: “My research suggests that older people don’t make these driving errors if they feel under no pressure from other drivers.

“Real or imagined pressure makes older people make these errors and given time to think properly then errors are reduced.

“The solution to this and also any cognitive changes associated with ageing including changes in working memory, attention and cognitive overload is to drive slower and at certain times of day.”

He added that males aged 17 to 21 are three to four times more likely to crash than men or women in their 70s or over.

And while the research suggested that older people are more likely to be killed or seriously injured in road accidents, it said this was because of their fragility rather than anything to do with their driving.

The Swansea University study also argued that older people stopping driving may actually speed up their death. It says that while pensioners make up just 19% of pedestrians, they account for 40% of pedestrian deaths.

Dr Musselwhite added: “It’s not uncommon for older people to say when they give up driving that it feels like their limbs have been cut off or they are ready for the scrap heap.

“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,” he said.

Philip Gomm, from the motoring research charity the RAF Foundation, said: “Older drivers often get a bad rap as they actually tend to be some of the safest people on the road.”