Are elderly drivers at a greater risk for the roads and should they be prohibited from driving? New study says “No.”

CBC News presented the story of 94-year-old Peggy Ellison, a resident of Tottenham, ON that, after 70 years of driving, got her driver’s license suspended. Her mistake: she was driving too slowly on the highway.

The case of Peggy Elliot is far from being an exception. According to the latest figures provided by Statistics Canada (2009), 68% of seniors aged 65 to 74 reported that their main form of transportation was driving their own vehicle. [2]

Although most seniors drive carefully and defensively, the statistics report that people with 70 years of age and older have the second highest accident rate per kilometer when compared to other age groups, only behind young male drives. These numbers have led authorities to outline as to when elderly drivers should go for a re-test and also, when their driver’s licenses should be revoked.

However, a presentation at the British Science Festival this week has brought a new perspective regarding aging and driving.  The research directed by Dr. Charles Musselwhite, Professor in Gerontology at the Centre for Innovative Ageing (CIA) at Swansea University, revealed that the assumption that elderly drivers pose more risks to the safety of roads is wrong and that statistics have misled such conclusions because police only collect data from accidents resulting in injuries or deaths. Due to their frailty, older drivers are more likely to be killed or injured in an accident, which in turn have caused statistics skews. 

 “My research suggests that while people think older people are dangerous on the road - they aren’t. People also think testing old people will make the roads safer - it won’t.”  - said Dr. Musselwhite, speaking at the British Science Festival in Swansea.

The importance of Dr. Musselswhite’s research goes beyond giving the elderly a mean of transportation, it reflects upon their independence and their quality of life.

 After being stopped from driving, Peggy Ellison said: "Never thought of not having a car, never crossed my mind, when you can't go out and get in your car and go where you want to go, it's like having your arm cut off." In all these years of driving, she has never been involved in a car accident. "I haven't changed because I got old, at least I don't think I have," said Ellison.

Sylvain Gagnon, a researcher for Canadian Driving Research Initiative for Vehicular Safety in the Elderly (CANDRIVE) said to CBC News: "It's been demonstrated and said many times, that receiving the news that you will be losing your driver's license has the same weight as being diagnosed with cancer."

Dr. Musselwhite considers crucial that authorities re-discuss safety policies on the roads to enable elderly drivers the right to retain their independence and lifestyle.

He agrees that aging impacts the reaction time of drivers. For example: a 60-year-old driver takes 9 seconds to recover from undergoing a road glare, whereas it takes 2 seconds for a driver who is 30 years old and a 65-year-old has a reaction time 22 times slower than a 30-year-old.

However, Dr. Musselwhite points out that pressure and not reaction time is what causes wrongful decisions and poor driving: “What we find is when you do it on a desktop-based simulator, people over the age of 65 do take longer to make the decision to turn right, it wasn’t until the participants were put under pressure during the computer simulation that they made a mistake, suggesting that it is feeling under pressure, that could be behind the problematic right turn.”

In addition, he ponders that “introducing re-testing for older drivers could result in more deaths, because it would force more of them onto the pavements, which are a particularly dangerous environment for older pedestrians.”

The decision to take someone’s license away should be based upon analyzing their health condition, and not age, in order to justify this extreme measure. When older people are forced to stop driving they are more susceptible to having depression, stress, isolation and hence, their lives deteriorates.

 

 
Source:
1.    The Guardian: Elderly drivers not more dangerous than younger motorists, study claims. By  Nicola Davis. Published on Tuesday 6 September 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/sep/06/elderly-drivers-not-more-dangerous-than-younger-motorists-study-claims
2.    Statistics Canada: Profile of seniors' transportation habits. By Martin Turcotte http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-008-x/2012001/article/11619-eng.htm
3.    CBC News Canada: For seniors, losing driver’s licence like having 'arm cut off’. By Janet Thomson Manmeet Ahluwalia and Kathryn. Weatherleyhttp://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/for-seniors-losing-driver-s-licence-like-having-arm-cut-off-1.1346585
4.    Forcing elderly people to stop driving could result in MORE deaths, expert warns.  http://www.mirror.co.uk/science/forcing-elderly-people-stop-driving-8781054
 
 
 
Written By Eveline Pinto
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