Wed. May 29th, 2024

I passed my medical but still didn’t feel safe. Why older drivers are surrendering their licences

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May29,2024
When is age more than a number and who gets to decide when it comes to age limits? Watch Insight episode How Old Is Too Old on SBS on Tuesday 14 May at 8.30pm or on .
Val Fell was 87 when she voluntarily handed in her driver’s licence.
“I had been to a medical exam to see whether I was allowed to drive anymore. I passed it 100 per cent,” Val told Insight.
A few days later Val was pulling out of a petrol station when she suffered a transient ischemic attack, which is like a mini-stroke.
“I started the car with my foot on the accelerator instead of on the brake and wrote off a Lexus. I went slam-bang into that. And wrote it off,” she said.
Fortunately, nobody was hurt in the accident. But Val no longer felt comfortable behind the wheel. She went straight to the service office and handed in her licence. She hasn’t driven since.

“My immediate thought was: ‘nothing’s happened this time’. But if it happens again there may be a child in the way,” Val said.

An older woman wearing a blue top standing with a woman wearing a scarf.

Nancy Williams with her daughter Jenny. Jenny says she is increasingly worried for her mother’s safety on the roads. Source: SBS

Isolated and trapped in country towns

Jenny Bray worries about her 86-year-old mum, Nancy Williams, driving long distances.
Her mother lives about 120km north of Brisbane in the small country town of Mapleton, and while Jenny is comfortable with her driving in her local area, she doesn’t want her mum making the longer drive to Brisbane to visit family and friends and access services.
“I really wouldn’t want mum driving to us in Brisbane, given that it’s a busy highway and just the volume and speed of the traffic. We’ll go and pick her up or work out ways to get mum to Brisbane if we need to, rather than have her drive,” Jenny told Insight.
But for Nancy, living in a country town, her licence is her independence.

“If I lost my wheels, I would lose my freedom. In the city, you have got so many more services at your disposal. Up here and in country towns, you just don’t have those services that will give you that independence,” Nancy said.

How ageing affects driving

The number of drivers over the age of 70 has doubled in the last 20 years in Victoria alone, with 533,000 older drivers on the road as of 2019.
According to experts such as University of New South Wales research scientist Kaarin Anstey, this comes with an increase in risk.
“Ageing does affect our skills quite a lot. To be a safe driver, we need to have adequate reaction time, visual function and cognitive function. And these are all things that show decline in normal ageing,” Kaarin told Insight.
“South Australian data showed that at age 60 to 69, when a driver is involved in a crash, they are responsible 57 per cent of the time. This rises to 64 per cent in the 70 to 79 year old age group, and up to 85 per cent in the 80 plus age group.”
“So, it is really the over 80s where there is a marked increase in risk,” Kaarin said.
Each state in Australia has different rules and checks for ageing drivers.
NSW has the strictest laws, requiring drivers to have annual medical assessments after the age of 75, and practical assessments after 85.
Queensland requires a yearly medical check up over the age of 75, with no practical assessments required.
Other states like Victoria and South Australia rely on self-assessment.
Despite the variation in the way the states approach testing, research from the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development shows that the crash rate for older drivers is consistent across Australia.
But testing does help detect some drivers that should no longer be on the roads.
Kaarin Anstey says that while testing is helpful, some of the tests conducted such as the visual acuity test aren’t shown to be very effective. And that self-assessment is often unreliable.

“We’ve all been driving for decades. We don’t actually know much about our habits until something really bad happens,” she said.

A bar graph titled Percentage of Drivers Responsible for Car Crashes By Age

Data from South Australia shows that drivers over the age of 80 involved in a crash were responsible 85 per cent of the time. Source: SBS

‘So much loss and grief’

A few years after being , Gwenda Darling noticed herself making some mistakes on the road and getting beeped by other drivers for driving in second gear on a freeway.
“I went to the GP because I had to have an annual Service NSW doctor’s report,” Gwenda said.
The GP told her that she had ‘ticked a lot of boxes’, an indication that she was no longer safe to drive.
Gwenda told the GP not to refer her for a practical driving test and instead handed in her licence later that week.
But losing the ability to drive was not easy for her.

“There was so much loss and grief, there still is because you’re just so trapped. You can’t do anything on your own because you can’t drive. You’re totally dependent on somebody to take you and I hate it. But I did think if I killed a dog or worse, I’d never forgive myself,” Gwenda said.

Weighing up the risks

For now, Nancy Williams still feels comfortable driving around her hometown.
“I’m a very careful driver. I drive only in areas that I really know very, very well. I like to think that I will realise when it’s no longer appropriate for me to drive,” she said.
For daughter Jenny, weighing up the benefits of her mum retaining her independence with the risks of her staying on the roads remains a difficult dilemma.
“I am very aware of mum’s need and right to have an independent lifestyle and not to be waiting or feeling trapped or feeling she has lost her freedom. But I worry that there will come a time where she won’t be able to drive,” Jenny said.
Jenny has deferred to her mum’s GP for the difficult conversations and decisions around her ability to drive.
“I think if it’s good enough for them, that’s good enough for me.”
And for more stories head to , hosted by Kumi Taguchi. From sex and relationships to health, wealth, and grief Insightful offers deeper dives into the lives and first person stories of former guests from the acclaimed TV show, Insight.
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Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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One thought on “I passed my medical but still didn’t feel safe. Why older drivers are surrendering their licences”
  1. It’s concerning to hear stories like these. Safety should always be the top priority when it comes to driving, regardless of age. Older drivers should regularly assess their capabilities behind the wheel to ensure the safety of themselves and others on the road.

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