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Are You Too Old To Drive?

I think it was Oscar Wilde who said that youth is wasted on the young.  It might not be quite so widely talked about, but there are some benefits to not being as young as you used to be. All the same, there’s no denying that even if you have truckloads of experience as a driver and can remember the days when it wasn’t compulsory for passengers to wear seatbelts and when having automatic windows was posh, the time may come when the old body lets you down and won’t react the way it used to do.  There is a reason why medical tests are compulsory for those over 75 every year and two-yearly practical driving tests are needed for those aged over 85 if you want to stay on a normal driver’s licence. It’s kind of like getting a roadie test but for the driver rather than a vehicle.

However, although I know plenty of people in the age bracket who don’t seem to show many signs of their age apart from a few wrinkles and grey hair, there are others who start showing a few signs of slowing down before they hit the 75-year mark.  My mum, for example, decided to pull back on the driving for safety reasons because she felt that her reactions were getting too slow to drive in the city, although this was “just a case of getting older and nothing to worry about” even though she was well short of 75 years old (it turned out to be early onset Parkinson’s but that’s another story and I’m glad to report she’s doing well on medication).

To be able to drive safely, what do you need to be able to do? What does it take to have what it takes? I came across a set of questions that older drivers can ask themselves to help assess how fit they are to drive.  Do any of these ten questions ring true for you? If you answer yes to a lot of them, then maybe it’s time you had a chat with your doctor about driving and medical tests. Sometimes, a few exercises and a new pair of glasses may help – although sometimes, it won’t.

  1. Is getting your seatbelt on a pain and does it take you several attempts at the best of times?
  2. Do you have trouble turning the steering wheel (and you’ve got power steering in the car and you’re not driving an old classic without it)?
  3. Is it hard to do head-checks (looking over your shoulder to check the blind spot)?
  4. Does driving on even short trips tire you out more easily?
  5. Do you have a few problems picking out things like road markings, kerbs, median strips, other cars and pedestrians?
  6. Do you have problems remembering who gives way?
  7. Does your mind wander while you’re driving? Here, we’re not talking about briefly running over the options for dinner or your to-do list at the traffic lights, or idly pursuing a train of thought on a long empty country road (we all do this), but going completely away with the pixies in the middle of the city or to the point that you suddenly come to and haven’t got a clue where you are.
  8. Do you get honked at a lot by other drivers? OK, everyone gets drivers tooting at them from time to time, but if it happens a lot, especially at traffic lights or intersections, then it’s possibly the case that you’re a bit slower to react that you used to be (it’s not the case that Young People These Days are more impatient, especially when the Young Person who just honked at you is a tradie in his 40s).
  9. Is reversing or parallel parking difficult, even if it’s been easy for you in the past?
  10. Have you picked up some wretched condition like heart problems, stroke, early-stage dementia, etc.?

The good news is that if your hearing is going a bit (all those rock concerts back in the 1970s and a lifetime of working with power tools make for great memories but worse hearing), this shouldn’t stop you from driving, as most hazards have a strong visual component, and even things like police and fire sirens usually come with lights as well.

For older drivers, it’s possible to get a modified licence so you can keep driving but only under certain conditions. You might want to put yourself under your own personal restrictions if you found yourself answering Yes to a lot of the questions above. A modified licence is rather like the grown-up version of the provisional licence and restricts you to driving only in certain circumstances. With a modified licence, the conditions will vary depending on your situation. For example, your modified licence may allow you to drive only short distances (e.g. to town and back, rather than interstate to see the grandkids).  Modified licences allow you to stay active and independent but without putting yourself (and others) at risk.

Conditions you may wish to put on yourself rather than official restrictions and conditions under a modified licence could include not driving alone, only taking familiar routes, not driving at night or not driving in bad weather, and avoiding driving at times when you know you get sleepy (e.g. the middle of the afternoon on a hot day).

Having a new vehicle with modern driver aids such as blind spot alerts, reverse parking sensors and autonomous emergency braking may help you stay on the road for longer. However, if you upgrade your vehicle to something with such features, make sure you take some time when you’re not actually driving anywhere to get familiar with all the buttons, symbols, beeps and knobs. And remember that as is the case with most things in life, you need to use those driving skills so you don’t lose them!

One comment

  1. Graham Sims JP says:

    Good points re ‘getting too old to drive’, but 1) I have an old friend, an experienced driver ,including rally driver motor engineer, etc, who does manifest your delineated factors, but is in denial of any of them. Hence, self-awareness is a major consideration. 2) If your regular passenger (eg partner) is nervous or ill at ease when you are driving, this may well be an indicator of your declining competence. One of the areas of sensitivity is to have family members, close friends or regular passengers doubting your driving competence.3) Do you keep up to date with changes to road rules?

    September 2nd, 2020 at 10:24 am

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