Testing for older drivers

Age Concern community welfare coordinator Catherine Donnelly. Photo: Matt Brown.

An advocate for older drivers has warned more stringent measures are needed to help keep senior drivers safe on the road.

As the population in the region ages, the number of elderly drivers is expected to increase.

And industry expert Age Concern community welfare coordinator Catherine Donnelly believes driver testing is not rigorous enough for older motorists.

New Zealand Transport Agency figures show more than 1500 people over the age of 80 have a current license in Marlborough. One hundred and twenty nine of those are over the age of 90.

At 75 years of age, motorists are required to provide a medical certificate from their GP  in order to keep their driver’s licences.

But Catherine says cognitive testing should be performed alongside the sight and hearing tests.

“Some GPs already do it,” she says.

“As people age, [testing] should get more rigorous.”

An NZTA spokeswoman says older drivers are not involved in “a large number” of serious crashes.

But due to increasing physical frailty, if involved in a crash, are more at risk of being seriously injured or killed, she says.

“For many older people driving is a key to their independence,” the spokeswoman says.

“Many seniors rely on their car to get around. For shopping, appointments or visiting friends and family.

“These concerns must be balanced with the recognition that the ageing process can affect a range of skills essential to driving – including eyesight, memory, decision-making and reaction times.

“It’s important for all drivers, regardless of age, to regularly and honestly assess their own driving capabilities to keep themselves and others safe.

Catherine says at the end of last year, there was a “horrific” death toll for older drivers.

“As you get older, your reflex time is slower,” she says. She added one in four medications can also affect driving.

She would like to see more people take advantage of an initiative to improve their driving.

In conjunction with NZTA, Age Concern offers a confidence driving course that will fit anyone, “even teenagers,” as well as a course aimed at providing information on how to get by without a driver’s license.

Age Concern provides walkability maps, half price taxi fares and has advice on mobility scooters, e bikes and trikes.

“It costs $4000 to $6000 to run a car per year, that’s a lot of taxi fares,” Catherine says.

“There are a lot of options.”

The free courses run 12 times a year, from 10am to 2pm at the Clubs of Marlborough.

The next course is November 11 and December 9.

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