Numbers of Western Bay senior drivers are increasing as our population ages, with many trying to keep their skills up to date, Age Concern says.
A new survey shows the proportion of over 65s who drive has grown by about 10 per cent in the past decade to 91.4 per cent.
Nationally, that equates to about 170,000 more senior motorists on the road, making over 65s the third largest number of road users behind 35 to 49-year-olds and 50 to 64-year-olds, the Roy Morgan research shows.
In Bay of Plenty, almost 92 per cent of over 65s surveyed were still driving, with most driving between 5000 to 10,000km a year.
Western Bay has had its fair share of accidents involving senior drivers in the last few years.
In April this year, an elderly woman crashed into the Katikati Westpac offices when she accelerated while trying to reverse. No one was injured seriously.
Over the past 10 years about 3500 Western Bay senior drivers had completed a driver refresher course at Age Concern, course facilitator Jim Wilson said. Drivers were generally nervous before taking the course, but had more confidence once they completed it.
He knew of one 94-year-old driver who took the course to brush up on her town driving skills, although she was confident to do a solo monthly round trip between Tauranga, Taupo, Napier and Wairoa.
Seniors valued their licence as a way to maintain independence.
However, stopping driving could lead to them meeting new people through pick-up services, and saving money they would have spent on petrol, he said.
The research shows seniors were now more likely than under 35s to drive.
"The decline in driving among younger people correlates to an increase in public transport usage," Roy Morgan general manager Pip Elliott said.
"For instance, in the year to August 2003, 25 per cent of all 25 to 34-year-olds travelled by bus within an average three months; in the year to August 2013, this had risen to 30 per cent."
In all age groups except over 65s, the proportion of the population who drive has dropped over the past 10 years.
Nationwide there are now three million drivers, an increase of almost 400,000 over the past decade, but the overall proportion of drivers in the population has declined slightly to 84.3 per cent.
The youngest and oldest drivers cover the least distance on the roads, with drivers under 20 covering an average of 8100km a year, and drivers 70 and over travelling 9600km a year on average. Those aged between 40 and 44 average 19,100km a year.
Automobile Association Motoring Affairs general manager Mike Noon said he was not surprised by the survey's findings.
An ageing population meant more senior drivers on the road, with baby boomers enjoying greater health and mobility than their parents, he said. Senior drivers were not risk takers, and moderated their driving to suit their abilities.
They would typically refrain from driving at night, at rush hour or in large cities if they did not feel confident.
"They are more vulnerable so if they are involved in a crash they are more likely to be injured simply because of fragility."
Drivers must renew their licence at 75 and 80, and then every subsequent two years they must present a medical certificate each time. A doctor can also recommend they sit a 30-minute safety test. Information for older drivers is available at www.nzta.govt.nz
The survey questioned more than 10,000 New Zealanders between September last year and August 2013.
Additional reporting Heather McCracken