A QUEENSLAND aging expert has come out in support of older drivers and their safety record on the road.
Queensland Brain Institute researcher, Dr Jaqueline Liddle has pointed out that driving performance is more related to health rather than age, so there can be safe drivers at any age.
Age is not a good indicator of skill, she adds.
Dr Liddle's comments follow a call from New South Wales Police head of traffic John Hartley for drivers over the age of 70 to "reconsider" their driving ability.
Assistant Commissioner Hartley said drivers of this age were two-and-a-half times more likely than younger drivers to die in a roadside accident in NSW.
He added that senior citizens often found it difficult to stay centred in their lane, stop in time for red lights and reverse safely without running into objects.
"It is these issues that put older drivers, their passengers, and other road users at great risk," Asst Commissioner Hartley said.
"Personal responsibility is the key to keeping us all safe on NSW roads. Don't wait until you're involved in a near-miss, or a crash, to reconsider your driving ability."
The latest figures put out by the NSW Centre for Road Safety reveal that the number of fatalities on the road for senior citizens has spiked by 20% in the last year alone.
Drivers over the age of 70 represented nearly 22% of the total fatalities in 2015, while the age bracket makes up just 11% of the population.
In Queensland, a Department of Transport and Main Roads spokesperson said older drivers were not "over-represented" in road crash statistics.
Seniors aged 75 years or older, as drivers or riders, made up 12% of road crash deaths - the same as other age groups, apart from those aged 16-24 years, with 24% of fatalities.
"Age is not a barrier to driving and many older people are perfectly capable of driving safely. However, physical and mental changes that often come with aging can affect how older people drive," the TMR spokesperson said.
"In recognition of this, since 1996 Qld licence-holders aged 75 or older have been required to carry and drive in accordance with a current medical certificate."
Following a review of older driver safety undertaken by the TMR and the Older Driver Safety Advisory Committee, changes were introduced on January 1, 2014, to limit the term of an older driver's medical certificate to one year.
"This requirement to have an annual medical check-up ensures any problems are detected early and managed sooner," the spokesperson said.
UQ Aging Mind Initiative co-director and clinical neuropsychologist, Dr Nancy Pachana, who specialises in elder driving sa
fety, said decades of driving research had found that older drivers were just as safe as younger adults on the roads.
"It's ageist to state a person cannot drive just because of their age," Dr Pachana said. "The NSW Police are confusing the greater vulnerability to injury with driving skills.
"Older people have increasingly frail bones and are more susceptible to motor vehicle injuries, not just as drivers, but also as passengers and pedestrians."
Seniors can use a self-assessment questionnaire on the RACQ's website to check their current driving capability.
Dr Liddle said most older people voluntarily stopped driving, often at some cost to their independence.
"There are also costs and risks for older people not driving, including increased risks of depression, isolation and poorer health outcomes," she said.
The UQDrive program endorses the following tips from retired drivers, for older people considering their driving future:
- Start to think about your options early. While you are still driving, try out different transport options, including public transport, transport services and lifts from family and friends.
- Have a long-term plan for your transport needs.
- Weigh it up. Take the time to think through all the factors involved in driving, and retiring from driving.
- Look into your priorities and values, and put plans into place.
- Think about the positives and negatives of retiring from driving.
- Talk to key people. Talking about the situation to family, friends and health professionals might help you to consider all of your options.
- Other options. It is important to stay involved in the community. This can be done by using different transport options, and taking up new roles and activities.
- Stay involved and active. Staying active after giving up driving is important. You should keep doing the things that are important to you.
To keep up an active lifestyle, some people find they need to change their routines, and others move to areas with better transport options.