An incident involving an elderly man who drove his BMW into a 700-year old monument in Truro last week has sparked debate around additional testing for elderly drivers.
The driver, confirmed by Devon and Cornwall police, suffered a medical episode at the wheel resulting in losing control and colliding into two people who were sitting on a bench. The car then smashed into the historic Celtic monument outside of Truro Cathedral which dates back to medieval times.
The elderly man was treated at the scene but was fortunate to sustain only minor injuries. However, the ‘freak accident’ did highlight a controversial issue that has been left unaddressed for many years – should elderly drivers be made to retake their driving test?
The current law in the UK is that once passed the original driving test, a licence remains self-regulation by the individual. This means there are no governing powers to revoke someone’s licence from them or even make them do a compulsory test on their driving ability. Instead, drivers over the age of 70 are required to fill in a simple assessment form every three years to renew their licence with no medical details required.
However, a petition which has reached more than 264,000 signatures, is calling for those over 70 to do a formal assessment to retain their licence. The petition started by Benjamin Brooks-Dutton is issued to the Department of Transport and needs 300,000 signatures to be considered.
It was set up by Benjamin after he tragically lost his wife when an 85-year-old pensioner, mistakenly used the accelerator instead of the break and mounted the curb travelling at 54mph in a 20 zone.
Speaking to Falmouth residents who live locally to Truro, most of them are in agreement that there needs to be some form of re-evaluation to elderly drivers.
Maria Hopwood, 20, from Falmouth University said: “I one-hundred-percent think they should be retested. I think once they are at that age their reactions are much slower, their hearing and sight have also massively declined.”
Scientifically speaking, the cognitive speed in reactions is said to drop by 15 percent, every 15 years after the age of 24. This means that those aged 70 and above will have a significantly lower ability to be able to stop in emergency situations.
Maria continued: “Years ago my grandpa was backing out of my drive and wasn’t paying attention to a car behind him. He didn’t even hear my mum shouting for him to stop, let alone see the car and consequently he backed into it. Also, things like roundabouts are also issues as elderly people tend to pull out in front of people because of their lack of judgement. “
Also in consensus Amanda Bray, 44 from Mabe Burnthouse said: “I actually think they should be made to either retake or have a medical evaluation as reflexes are slower when you get older. This should definitely be at the age of 70 if not 65.”
Most people agreed that a law needs to be in place to protect both drivers and pedestrians alike. In the case in Truro last week, the man suffered from a medical episode at the wheel resulting in the car crashing – therefore medical assessment could potentially avoid collisions occurring due to being physically and emotionally competent of driving.
However, elderly drivers are outraged at the prospect of having to do further testing. One resident, 78-year old Colin Murdock who continues to drive, despite having had two incidents of speeding in the last three years argues: “If they are medically fit they should be allowed to drive, you can get a person over 70 that hasn’t had an accident or speeding ticket – I just had mine renewed for one more year I think I’m fairly good driver.”
Mr Murdock argued that younger drivers can be more dangerous than the elderly, he added: “You get lots of young people on the roads that have accidents because they go too fast. I think as you get older you mature as a driver and realise you don’t need to go that fast, you are a much more responsible person.”
Although Mr Murdock’s views were controversial, the young-vs-older driver’s data does highlight that those under the age of 20 are more likely to have an accident than drivers over 75, specifically ‘boy racers’.
Whether or not elderly drivers need to have additional testing is a political hot potato, but the fundamental message still remains – whatever your age, drive safe or don’t drive at all!