Should there be an upper age limit for drivers?
This is a subject that is a bit controversial, especially if you are an elderly person yourself, but I feel it is an important one to ask. Should there be an upper age limit for driving?
I am asking this question because as an experienced and formerly professional driver, I notice that once people get into a certain age group, i.e. the senior citizen age range, their driving seems to deteriorate considerably as the years go on. If you live in the UK you will particularly notice this as you approach towns such as Eastbourne that are largely populated by retired individuals looking to spend their final years by the seaside. The pace of driving slows to a crawl that is way below the speed limit, causing frustration to those behind them who only ask that the flow of traffic meets the legal speed limits, as opposed to exceeding them.
What has prompted me to write this article is the fact that My Mother and Stepfather both fall firmly into this 'driving deteriorating' category, and especially in my Mother's case, although she stubbornly refuses to admit there is anything wrong with her driving, even though it is patently obvious to anyone who has been in a car with her as many times as I have over the years, that there has been a noticeable downturn in her driving standards.
My Mother's Driving
When I was growing up my Mother was a very competent driver, completely comfortable with motorways on our annual visits to the UK mainland, and able to park a car as well as any man. She was often complimented on her driving skills by family and friends, and during my younger years I only ever recall a few very minor bumps to her cars, which to the best of my recollection were not her fault anyway. Mum always had quite good sized cars, including a BMW, a Granada Scorpio and later on the newer Scorpio. I believe the driving problems really began when she got into her mid-sixties though.
I had lived away from the Channel Island of Guernsey for some years, so when I finally decided to return to live it had been some time since I had last traveled in a car with my Mum driving. When I did it therefore came as quite a shock to me how much her driving had deteriorated. It wasn't more than a few minutes before I found myself unable to relax because I was watching all the other vehicles at every junction to make sure I could point them out to Mum if she looked as if she might not have seen them. Even performing maneuvers in car parks etc, she was coming dangerously close to clipping other vehicles that were parked nearby, apparently oblivious and disbelieving when I pointed it out to her.
Her driving had slowed to an unbearable pace that was probably enough to cause accidents in itself, (as frustrated motorists might take risks in order to overtake her and continue their journey at the normal speed limit). God help anyone who tried to tell Mum her driving was not as good as it used to be though. Immediately she would (and still does) become very defensive, quoting people who had 'always said what an excellent driver she was', even though these people in most cases said it about 30-40 years ago (or more).
Any minor scrapes she has now are usually when she is using my Step Father's jeep, and you can bet your life she will always have a reason to say it is the other driver who was at fault, even though I am now inclined to doubt that this is the case. Of course my Step Father gets very angry that his new jeep has now got a scrape on the back or a small dent etc, and then Mum gets mad defending her driving skills, and threatens to begin using her own car instead. Mum's 'own car' is the large Ford Scorpio that usually resides in the garage these days, waiting for their next trip to the UK where the roads are a decent width as opposed to the tiny country lanes that Guernsey is covered in. We have all spent the last few years trying to persuade Mum to sell this large car and buy a small car that she can easily drive on the small roads here, but again, she defends the fact she wants to keep this large vehicle by stating how 'she has always had nice cars', and 'what a useful car it is to have when they travel to the UK or have friends over to stay'. One thing is certain, she will not admit this car is now too big for her and that she also incapable of driving it in the safe way she once could.
Currently my Mother is in her seventies, and suffering a spiraling myriad of health problems, including a 'frozen shoulder', a recent knee replacement, arthritis etc. Surely even with power steering and an automatic gearbox she should be retested or at least assessed following a refresher course! My Step Father is becoming increasingly alarmed as he quotes incidents such as how Mum will creep over a junction only looking in the direction the traffic would be coming nearest to her, before then checking the traffic coming the other way at the point she has her half of the road sealed off. As he says, if a vehicle overtook another vehicle on the other side of the road, that vehicle would crash straight into her car, potentially killing someone. Even my Sister, (a non driver) says Mum talks incessantly when driving, and sometimes it seems clear she hasn't noticed another car coming as a result of not being able to fully concentrate whilst chatting. If my Sister says, 'Mum, look out, there's a car', Mum immediately says 'You don't need to tell me, I have seen it'. But as Sis points out, if Mum hadn't seen the other car and she said nothing, it would be too late. I don't think either of us are convinced Mum is being totally truthful when she says she has seen these other vehicles approaching.
The trouble of course is that like many older people, she is proud, and also refuses to believe her driving is anything other than the standard it once was. Clearly her driving has got to a stage where she should be made to take a new course and driving test, or not be allowed to drive at all, but she would only agree to do that if legally forced to. The worst thing is she loves shopping and getting out and about, and she would be miserable if unable to do so. Buses are not really a practical option for her because of the fact she cannot carry shopping around or walk far with her physical problems, and my Sister (who formerly suffered a stroke at a young age), also relies on our Mum to pick her up and take her shopping much of the time.
It is a difficult problem to find a solution to. If I try to have conversations with Mum about getting rid of her large Scorpio car and getting a smaller vehicle, whilst explaining my concerns about her driving skills, she gets angry and defensive, still stubbornly refusing to let go of the big vehicle. Meanwhile every time she is late getting back from shopping in our Step Dad's car, he is worrying she may have had an accident, (especially if it is getting dark).
Even our Step Father freely admits he knows his driving has deteriorated as the years have gone on (he too is in his seventies), and whilst I know he drives even slower than Mum (again very frustrating if you are in a hurry and they are giving you a lift), in most other ways he still appears to be the more competent driver.
I suspect that an upper age limit on drivers might be rather excessive as clearly there are some excellent older drivers on the roads. I do however think refresher courses at periodic intervals should be compulsory once a person reaches a certain age, possibly somewhere between 65 and 75 years old, and a new driving test a legal requirement if recommended by the instructor upon completion of the course. Perhaps another legal requirement should be to limit the size and CC of vehicles senior citizens are allowed to drive, which would be a good idea in conjunction with the refresher driving courses for the older person, (actually refresher courses for young drivers for the first few years or driving might not be a bad idea either).
I love my Mum, and I don't want her to feel confined to the house and dependent on lifts everywhere she wants to go, but likewise I don't want her getting killed, killing or injuring someone else as a result of continuing to drive the way she does now.