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Tighten tests to ensure older motorists fit to drive, says lawyer

Eyesight should be tested and fitness to drive certified by responsible person, Fatal Accident Inquiry told

A lawyer in Scotland says that rules should be tightened to ensure that older motorists are fit to drive. The appeal was made in evidence submitted to a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) in Scotland following the death of a cyclist who was involved in a collision with a driver aged 93.

Alice Ross, now aged 96, blacked out while driving her car in 2011, killing 30-year-old cyclist Elaine Dunne. The victim, from Leicestershire, was on a cycling holiday with her husband celebrating their first wedding anniversary. Mr Dunne was seriously injured in the incident.

Last year, charges of causing death by dangerous driving against Mrs Ross, who had no recollection of the crash, were dropped after prosecutors accepted her defence that her blackouts were due to an underlying medical condition.

In documents submitted to the FAI at Wick Sheriff Court, procurator-fiscal Alasdair MacDonald said that people in their 80s and beyond should have to undergo check-ups on their health.

He also said they should be required to renew their driving licence every two years and produce a statement corroborated by a suitably responsible person certifying the person’s fitness to drive, reports Herald Scotland.

In the UK, motorists aged 70 and above need to reapply for their licence to the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency (DVLA) every three years, but the system has been criticised because it relies on self-certification.

The Department for Transport has been pushing for the age threshold to be increased, saying that Britain’s ageing population means it is getting inundated with applications for renewal of licences.

Mr MacDonald highlighted that in the Canadian province of Ontario, drivers aged 80 and over have to undergo a written test and eye examination every two years in order for their licence to be renewed.

"The local testing centres, introduced by the DVLA to make provision for the theory element of the driving test, could also with relative ease be adapted to basic tests of the nature in use in Ontario designed to easily and quickly check visual and mental acuity,” he said.

“While such alterations to the licensing system might not have prevented this tragedy, they might prevent others."

Road safety charity Brake also said the system of testing for older drivers needs to be overhauled, with eyesight tested each time a driver aged 70 or more reapplies for a licence.

"There is an issue with the DVLA's system, largely based on self-appraisal and certification, when instead there ought to be a more rigorous system,” it said.

“There is no requirement for drivers to prove their standard of vision apart from the number-plate test, only conducted when they do their test, and it is a flawed test anyway as it doesn't check for visual field or contrast sensitivity."

Last year, a report commissioned by the RAC Foundation estimated that up to 50,000 motorists turning 70 in 2013 would continue to drive when they were no longer fit to do so.

The report, carried out by the Transport Research Laboratory, said both the government and the medical profession needed to give more support to those making a self-assessment of their fitness to drive.

In 2011, an 85-year-old man from North Wales pleaded guilty of causing death by driving without due care and attention after he continued to drive for three miles without realising he had driven through a group of cyclists, killing one and seriously injuring another.

There are now more than 1 million people in the UK aged over 80 who have a driving licence, making it highly likely that many will be continuing to drive when no longer fit to do so.

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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28 comments

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elrick | 9 years ago
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Subject to blackouts... there's a clue in the those three words

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monty dog | 9 years ago
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Compulsory eye-test should be necessary for all driving license renewals, particularly night-vision would be a good start.
Make it a criminal offense to knowing not self-declare a condition.

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Vili Er | 9 years ago
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As someone who ended up in a pretty nasty crash with an OAP driving a car I’m all for this. I encountered a very elderly lady coming round a corner totally in my lane resulting in me being crushed against an embankment. My arm hit her wing mirror with so much force it ripped the mirror clean off and my radius was completely shattered. I had to have two major operations (one over Xmas - sob) and I’ve been left with permanent nerve damage and a large area of missing muscle. The police visited the elderly lady twice, but on the second visit she couldn’t remember seeing them previously! Her license was subsequently taken away. The route I was on is mostly very quiet and popular with families out for a ride so had she met them it could have been a lot worse.

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Bigfoz | 9 years ago
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She was subject to blackouts and self-certified to drive. How is that NOT dangerous driving?

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oozaveared | 9 years ago
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Well you could start by having a test in the first place. My dad (now 84) decided that he shouldn't be driving about anymore after he hit a wheelie bin he "didn't see". But he could hav just carried on and all he would have to do is sign a form saying that he was ok to drive.

This could be quite simply done by older people who in any case are almost bound to see their GP once a year anyway just having their GP sign that form to say they were OK (as most are) or not OK (as some are) or that the GP was unable to say and they should have an eye test for the purpose of deciding.

Basically old people aren't necessarily poor and those that can afford a car can also afford to pay an admin fee for an annual sight test and for the GP to say they are fit to drive.

The current self certification is a joke.

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Airzound | 9 years ago
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Too many coffin dodgers still allowed to drive beyond 70 years. They should have an annual test from 70th birthday onward to include sight, ear, hand eye co-ordination, mental dexterity - alertness and reflex testing.

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kie7077 | 9 years ago
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prosecutors accepted her defence that her blackouts were due to an underlying medical condition.

Blackouts - plural, she shouldn't have been driving, driving whilst knowing you may blackout is obviously dangerous, so why did the prosecution drop the charges?  14

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jacknorell | 9 years ago
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So, basically the old lady lied when self-certifying, and her GP failed to report a serious medical condition to DVLA.

One should be aggravating circumstances, the other professional negligence.

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oceandweller | 9 years ago
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The article says
"Last year, charges of causing death by dangerous driving against Mrs Ross, who had no recollection of the crash, were dropped after prosecutors accepted her defence that her blackouts were due to an underlying medical condition."
Surely that means she must have self-certified herself as capable of driving while knowing - because of this "underlying medical condition" - that she wasn't? Isn't lying to the government an offence of some sort? Or am I being dreadfully old-fashioned?
Incidentally, don't assume being over 70 or whatever automatically means someone's a bad driver. We know a 92 yr old who drives herself to the gym several times a week with no problems.

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massspike | 9 years ago
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If you want to know what its like with an abundance of aged drivers, look no further than Florida. It combines bad infrastructure (no paved shoulders) with well past their sell-by-date drivers. I believe Tampa is the most dangerous city for cyclists and Orlando isn't far behind. When I drive there (I'd never ride my bike on the road) you have to expect anything. My Floridian friend advises never to honk your horn because the old folks tend to panic.

P.S. fortunately Florida has some really nice rails-to-trails based bike paths. Unfortunately there are only 400kms of them in the whole state and they aren't interconnected.

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OldRidgeback replied to massspike | 9 years ago
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massspike wrote:

If you want to know what its like with an abundance of aged drivers, look no further than Florida. It combines bad infrastructure (no paved shoulders) with well past their sell-by-date drivers. I believe Tampa is the most dangerous city for cyclists and Orlando isn't far behind. When I drive there (I'd never ride my bike on the road) you have to expect anything. My Floridian friend advises never to honk your horn because the old folks tend to panic.

P.S. fortunately Florida has some really nice rails-to-trails based bike paths. Unfortunately there are only 400kms of them in the whole state and they aren't interconnected.

Florida also has one of the worst fatality rates of any US state. It isn't just down to older drivers I believe but also (and probably more so) due to more lax enforcement of driving laws than in much of the rest of the US. I know too that Florida's crash rate for motorcyclists is frighteningly high, partly because there are no helmet laws and partly because it is a lot easier to ride a high performance sportsbike there than anywhere else. Oh, and the drink driving rate in Florida is pretty high as well.

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massspike replied to OldRidgeback | 9 years ago
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OldRidgeback wrote:

Florida also has one of the worst fatality rates of any US state.

The death rate there is skewed by US1 (the 2-lane highway from Miami to Key West). There is a big electronic sign at the start that tells you how many people have died on it.

Some other Florida cycling lowlights: its so hot/humid in the summer, a 50km ride wipes you out; there is absolutely no rain gear on the planet that will keep you dry during one of their afternoon downpours (you'd be lucky to stay upright on your bike); and the water fountains on their bike paths dispense hot chlorinated water -- its like drinking from a hot tub.

Topic for discussion: is there a worse place, in the developed world, to cycle than Florida?

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OldRidgeback replied to massspike | 9 years ago
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massspike wrote:
OldRidgeback wrote:

Florida also has one of the worst fatality rates of any US state.

The death rate there is skewed by US1 (the 2-lane highway from Miami to Key West). There is a big electronic sign at the start that tells you how many people have died on it.

Some other Florida cycling lowlights: its so hot/humid in the summer, a 50km ride wipes you out; there is absolutely no rain gear on the planet that will keep you dry during one of their afternoon downpours (you'd be lucky to stay upright on your bike); and the water fountains on their bike paths dispense hot chlorinated water -- its like drinking from a hot tub.

Topic for discussion: is there a worse place, in the developed world, to cycle than Florida?

Interesting and I didn't know US1 was such a problem. I've not cycled there and wouldn't want to try. It isn't one of my favourite destinations in the US and I won't be hurrying back to Orlando where I've been for conferences a few times, though I'm told Miami is a lot more pleasant.

As for being the worst place to cycle in the developed world, you could well be right. I know the fatality rate is off the chart overall (and specifically for motorcyclists), though I haven't seen separate number for cyclists.

Maybe parts of Poland would be worse (freezing cold in winter), but I'm not sure.

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massspike | 9 years ago
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My father-in-law has passed the Ontario re-test twice: he is functionally deaf (unless you yell into his 1 good ear); had the wrong prescription for one of the tests; and in general should not be allowed behind the steering wheel. The system still needs to be willing to take the license away and it won't. We ended up selling his car so he couldn't drive.

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Paul_C | 9 years ago
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your GP should be able to have your licence revoked if he feels that you are no longer fit when doing your annual health checks...

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mike the bike replied to Paul_C | 9 years ago
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Paul_C wrote:

your GP should be able to have your licence revoked if he feels that you are no longer fit when doing your annual health checks...

GPs can and do report unfit drivers to the DVLA. This usually results in a driving test which, although not strictly to "new driver" requirements, is sufficiently rigourous to weed out the serious cases. My next-door neighbour is just such an example, having demolished a wall when parking at his local surgery.

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ironmancole | 9 years ago
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Anyone pick up on this typically lazy Department for Cars thought process?

"The Department for Transport has been pushing for the age threshold to be increased, saying that Britain’s ageing population means it is getting inundated with applications for renewal of licences"

Essentially it reads we can't be arsed to process applications as too many people are getting old so can't we just look at upping fitness checks to operate a lethal machine in the public domain to say, 120 years old so we have less to do?

Total incompetence and murderous apathy yet they have the gall to insult every single bereaved family out there by insisting road safety is a priority. Classic case of actions meaning more than words I think yet sadly we see very little in the way of action from this pointless department.

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Initialised | 9 years ago
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Agreed, my Grandma stopped driving after she destroyed the front of a house with a telegraph pole after flooring the accelerator instead of the brake. Routine testing could have spared her the risk she posed to herself and others. At least it was only property that got damaged, it could have been a lot worse.

Bikeability, AIM and CBT should be mandatory for all driving instructors and renewed annually alongside a practical driving test and routine observation sessions.

For us plebs a regular theory test every ten years focusing on recent changes and safety awareness would weed out the idiots and correct false assumptions and bad habits that creep in over time. Fail theory and you get knocked back to provisional with a year to pass an gets put on to a five year re-test after the initial pass. Over 60s should test five yearly and over 75 annually.

New drivers should have to do CBT or Bikeability Level 3 before progressing to a provisional drivers license.

Those caught committing cycling offences (especially pavement cycling) should be allowed to opt for Bikeability training to avoid or reduce fines.

Personality profiling would be useful but psychopaths will find ways around that and I doubt we can afford fMRI scans of all new drivers while they are shown images of fluffy kittens and roadkill.

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OldRidgeback replied to Initialised | 9 years ago
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Initialised wrote:

Agreed, my Grandma stopped driving after she destroyed the front of a house with a telegraph pole after flooring the accelerator instead of the brake. Routine testing could have spared her the risk she posed to herself and others. At least it was only property that got damaged, it could have been a lot worse.

Bikeability, AIM and CBT should be mandatory for all driving instructors and renewed annually alongside a practical driving test and routine observation sessions.

For us plebs a regular theory test every ten years focusing on recent changes and safety awareness would weed out the idiots and correct false assumptions and bad habits that creep in over time. Fail theory and you get knocked back to provisional with a year to pass an gets put on to a five year re-test after the initial pass. Over 60s should test five yearly and over 75 annually.

New drivers should have to do CBT or Bikeability Level 3 before progressing to a provisional drivers license.

Those caught committing cycling offences (especially pavement cycling) should be allowed to opt for Bikeability training to avoid or reduce fines.

Personality profiling would be useful but psychopaths will find ways around that and I doubt we can afford fMRI scans of all new drivers while they are shown images of fluffy kittens and roadkill.

+1 - good common sense suggestion

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jacknorell replied to Initialised | 9 years ago
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Initialised wrote:

Personality profiling would be useful but psychopaths will find ways around that and I doubt we can afford fMRI scans of all new drivers while they are shown images of fluffy kittens and roadkill.

Well, that's easy: Make the wanna-be driver pay for the procedure as part of licensing costs.

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mike the bike replied to Initialised | 9 years ago
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Initialised wrote:

...... Bikeability, AIM and CBT should be mandatory for all driving instructors and renewed annually alongside a practical driving test and routine observation sessions. .......

You seem to be under the impression that anyone can set themselves up as a driving instructor but the reality is very different.
All professional instructors must be approved and registered with the government's Driving Standards Agency. The first step on this path is to pass an advanced theory test and a hazard perception test. The next stage involves a rigourous driving/riding test, lasting a full hour and being equivalent to the IAM examination. Stage 3 demands that the candidate gives a forty-five minute lesson to a pupil whilst being assessed from the back seat. And all instructors are routinely subject to check-tests, using live pupils and under real-world conditions.
Each and every one of these steps commonly results in failure. Fail three and you are out for a year. Display criminal or anti-social behaviour and you are out for good. Life ain't easy behind those L plates.

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userfriendly | 9 years ago
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Don't start going down that road, it might just drive you mad. Imagine you were to invent and market the motor car in this day and age, what with our health and safety laws.

"You want to sell what now? To anyone with a pulse? Yeah, how about NO?!"

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Paul M | 9 years ago
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This story is anecdotal, but I gather that the statistics indicate a worrying trend towards older people being responsible for a disproportionate share of accidents involving injury to other road users - a bit of a donut, in fact, with the youngest drivers also being disproportionately involved, although for different reasons.

I used to have a private pilot's licence. I was required to submit to biennial re-tests of my flying capabilities, and to have a minimum amount of experience between tests. I also had to submit to regular medical examinations which increased in both frequency and thoroughness as I grew older. So for example from age 50 you have to have a medical every 2 years, with an ECG every time. You also, obviously, had eyesight and hearing tests, and if your eyesight needed correction you had to wear your glasses AND have a spare pair of your prescription with you when you fly.

For all that, the number of occasions when a private pilot has taken anyone other than themselves with them to the grave is vanishingly small, unlike the carnage which occurs daily due to unfit, careless or negligent drivers.

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mrmo | 9 years ago
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It is really quite incredible that in an most environments you would be expected to be tested periodically to ensure you are safe, to ensure that your knowledge is kept upto date. First aid, fork lifts, traveling cranes, etc etc.

Yet you can get a driving licence at 17 and then at 70 you can self assess. Consider the roads today and then look at how they were in the 1960s. Likewise look at the roads today, can anyone with any confidence say that nothing will change between now and 2060?

How many drivers read the highway code after they have a licence? how many drivers are unable to negotiate a roundabout?

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Simmo72 | 9 years ago
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Agree with the above, regular re-tests for everyone and include anger management tests to weed out the nut jobs who should not be driving becuase they are a danger to others, i.e. all Audi Q7 drivers.

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Bez | 9 years ago
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Tighten tests to ensure all motorists fit to drive, says me.

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robert posts child replied to Bez | 9 years ago
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Bez wrote:

Tighten tests to ensure all motorists fit to drive, says me.

Agree bez. Mental fitness as well as physical fitness.

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robert posts child replied to Bez | 9 years ago
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Bez wrote:

Tighten tests to ensure all motorists fit to drive, says me.

Agree bez. Mental fitness as well as physical fitness.

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