Older drivers get keys to safety

A Hawke's Bay road safety group is hoping to restore confidence and skills to older drivers.

Hawke's Bay Roadsafe spokeswoman Linda Anderson said older drivers were vulnerable road users due to a combination of medical conditions and nerves.

Many had not done any practical safety training for years but road rules had changed.

While compulsory medical tests at 75, 80 and every two years thereafter proved drivers' eyesight was sound and they were medically fit to drive, that could change quickly, Ms Anderson said.

"One of the concerns for road safety is that with the baby boomers coming up, there's going to be a lot more older drivers on the road."

Nationally, more than 5000 licensed drivers on New Zealand roads are in their 90s, with 11 aged over 100.

This year, nearly 700 drivers aged 74 and older have undergone on-road safety tests - nearly half have failed.

Of the 21 drivers referred for safety tests this year in Hawke's Bay, about one-third have failed.

The Roadsafe organisation was planning a free practical driver safety day for older drivers in March next year following concerns that some were lacking confidence.

"They'll be able to come along and do some theory, look at the new road changes. It will be an off-road venue and they'll be able to have a bit of a refresh and a practise."

Automobile Association spokesman Mike Noon said it was desirable to keep older motorists driving as long as they could do so safely.

"The loss of mobility, the loss of the freedom for older drivers is really significant."

Currently, drivers must renew their licence at age 75, 80, and every two years following and must obtain a medical certificate from their GP following a health and vision check.

After the check, drivers are classified into one of five categories:

Medically fit to drive without restrictions;

Medically fit to drive with conditions;

Medically fit to drive subject to passing an on-road safety test;

Medically fit to drive subject to confirmation by a specialist;

Not fit to drive - in which case the driver's licence expires on their next birthday.

Conditions could include only driving within a certain distance of their home, or between certain hours.

Many older drivers voluntarily stopped driving at night as it was harder for them to see and lights became dazzling, Mr Noon said.

They also avoided driving in heavy traffic or around schools.

"They just use their vehicle in their immediate area - going to church, visiting friends, going to the supermarket."

Generally, older drivers were more conservative, Mr Noon said.

"They're not speeding, they're not doing anything outrageous on the road."

Transport Ministry figures show 18 drivers aged 75 or older have been killed in crashes so far this year.

Aged Drivers:

  • Aged between 75-79: 82,891

  • Aged between 80-89: 76,011

  • Aged between 90-99: 5617

  • Aged over 100: 11

  • Six on-road safety tests for drivers aged 74 or older in Napier City this year. 67 per cent passed.

  • 15 on-road safety tests for older drivers in Hastings City this year. 67 per cent passed.

  • Nationwide, 699 on-road safety tests for drivers aged 74 and older this year. 54 per cent passed.

  • 18 older drivers killed to date this year.

  • 15 older drivers killed in 2011.

  • 12 fatal, 49 serious, and 241 minor injury crashes involving drivers aged 75 or older in the first six months of 2012.

  • 19 fatal, 93 serious, and 455 minor injury crashes involving older drivers in 2011.

  • 104 - the oldest driver on New Zealand roads, currently living in Northland.

  • 164,530 current licence holders aged 75 and above. 84,890 are male drivers and 79,639 female.

- Source: Ministry of Transport, NZ Transport Agency

- Hawkes Bay Today

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