Older Drivers Safer Reports IAM

Older drivers are as safe as drivers from all other age groups, according to research published by the IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists). Contrary to widespread belief, the study shows experience counts in the drive for safer roads.  They have better attitudes to safety, deal with hazards better than young drivers and use experience to increase their safety margins on the road.

The report reveals that drivers over 75 react just as quickly as other age groups when a vehicle emerges from a side road or if the car in front brakes suddenly on a rural road.

Official statistics show that people over 70 make up nine per cent of drivers but six per of driver casualties. This practical study found that where older drivers had slower reaction times, they used their experience on the road to compensate:

They drive at slower speeds on all occasions

They keep a bigger following distance than drivers from other age groups.

Whilst the study found little difference in driving performance across the ages it did highlight two surprising areas of concern:

Compared with other age groups, the eldest group appeared to stop short of the stop line at junctions and not look as often as others before pulling out.

Older drivers failed to look in their rear view mirrors as much as other age groups on the motorway.

The report found that older drivers were likely to have less flexibility in neck movement and poorer vision standards but this did not translate into differences in driving performance. Neck flexibility varied widely, with some older drivers as flexible as some in the youngest group

The IAM believes it is important these findings are used in on-road and online assessments to ensure that older drivers understand the risks they face and what they can do to improve their driving in key areas.

In the light of this new report the IAM is calling for:

A government action plan for older drivers

More car manufacturers considering older drivers in vehicle design

Greater publicity to encourage health professionals to discuss driving

Better information for older drivers and their families

Online self-assessment tools for older drivers

Wider availability of voluntary on-road driving assessments

Better partnership working at a local level

IAM chief executive Simon Best said:

“The government needs to create a strategy now to deal with the ageing driving population.”

“Older drivers, their families and friends deserve access to assessment and information to help them stay safe on the road. As well as this, car makers need to look at innovative ways to use technology to help this growing sector and the medical profession has to improve the way it delivers support and advise to keep drivers fit for the roads.”

TRL principal human factors researcher Nick Reed said:

“This study for IAM using TRL’s DigiCar simulator revealed that in many of the driving scenarios tested, older drivers were typically as safe as their younger counterparts. It was notable that performance was more varied across the older participants; seemingly reflecting differences in the ageing process and highlighting how difficult it is to make judgements about driving ability based solely on age. It was pleasing to identify specific areas of concern for older drivers and perhaps to correct some common misconceptions about their driving ability.”

Holding back the gears: The ageing process and driver safety can be viewed here: IAM The Aging Process

The study was undertaken by TRL on behalf of the IAM. There were thirty-two participants, eight from each of the following age groups: 17-26 year olds, 34-55 year olds, 64-74 year olds, 75+ year olds. The sample size reflects the in-depth nature of the research with the tasks taking a number of hours.

Gordon Morris, managing director of Age UK Enterprises recently said,

“We believe that people should be able to drive no matter what age they are, including and above the age of 100 years – ability is what matters. For many older people driving is a way of remaining independent and mobile. This is why it’s so important that there are insurance policies which have no upper age limit.”

IAM recommends the following to older drivers:

Older drivers should have a regular check up with their doctor to ensure that they are still fit to drive safely.

Your eyesight may not be as sharp as it used to be. Deterioration can be quite slow and you may not realize that you vision isn’t as good as it ought to be for safe driving. A regular check up with a qualified optician is very important for older drivers. If you wear glasses, check that they are suitable for driving.

Arthritis or stiffness will restrict your movements and your ability to make effective all round observations and can also affect your vehicle handling skills. There are special accessories designed to meet the needs of older drivers. You may find that exercises by your doctor can also help.

Tiredness or stress affects your ability to concentrate. Think carefully before deciding to make long journeys and plan to drive on routes that will minimize stress and fatigue. Take a twenty-minute break from driving every two hours, even if you don’t feel tired. Some exercise and light refreshments during the break can
help too.

Driving safely requires good awareness. Observation errors and misinterpretation of information are common factors in crashes involving older drivers. Reaction times get slower with age. Be prepared to make adjustments when age-related changes affect your driving performance.

Keep up to date with changes in the Highway Code. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.