Don’t jump to conclusions re elderly drivers – the sky’s the limit!
Ifound John Wigley’s 24 May letter about older drivers profoundly depressing and, though I certainly admire his devotion to driving by taking his Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) test, I feel that he makes the common error of ascribing elderly driver risk to slowing reactions and failing health.
By and large, even quite severely disabled drivers can be entirely competent so long as they are not – including by tiredness, etc – neurologically compromised. Assuming they aren’t, modest slowing of reactions has little effect – except, perhaps, under the most testing circumstances of rapidly flowing traffic at junctions or similar situations.
And even there, one could argue that poor road design has a greater influence (See JJ Leeming’s Road Accidents: Prevent or Punish and, most specifically, its medical analysis of age and risk). The IAM estimates that elderly drivers have about half the number of accidents one would expect in proportion to their numbers – and those under 24 years of age, about twice as many. It was not clear how that related to mileage. Age, hopefully, brings maturity, less aggression, less impulsivity, greater experience (and its corollaries – better anticipation and judgement, and patience) and consideration towards fellow drivers, ie. not driving at them at full pelt on narrow roads or tailgating an old and vulnerable classic.
All drivers would do well not to jump to the conclusion that, just because a car has chrome bumpers either it or its owner are slow or moving slowly! The most breathtaking exhibitions of appallingly dangerous driving that I’ve witnessed recently have been by drivers who are several decades away from their 70th birthday…
Simply put, driving is a cognitive skill and, if cognition is not dilapidated, then I feel that the likelihood of a correct decision is far more important than its absolute speed of action, or the age of the driver.
Experience and maturity aren’t everything, of course – I think that some sort of refresher training for all of us is a very good idea. A lifetime of cumulative bad habits – in any activity – can be very dangerous and even a short period of skilled correction will be extremely valuable. A failed one-off test and its consequences to morale, mobility – and indeed the possession of a licence or the insurability of one’s treasured classic – is a threat too far. In any event, if one cannot respond positively and constructively to instruction or correction, should one not consider hanging up one’s driving gloves?
All of this is why I am – together with two friends, one aged 70, the other 75 – learning to fly, which I certainly wouldn’t undertake if I thought we were putting others at risk.
Geoffrey Hammonds, Edgworth, Lancashire