Senior drivers and the importance of licence renewal
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From time to time, we receive calls from distraught senior drivers who have been unable to renew their licence when a medical professional has refused to grant them a medical certificate. In some circumstances, this can lead to older motorists feeling isolated.
Despite many years of experience behind the wheel, statistics from the New Zealand Transport Agency’s Crash Analysis System show that those aged 60-plus are more likely to be involved in crashes resulting in injury or fatalities than those under 25. What’s more, the percentage of injury crashes within this age segment is growing.
In 2016, 16.2 per cent of car drivers involved in injury crashes were 60 or over, compared to 10.5 per cent of those aged between 15 and 19 and 15.3 per cent for those aged 20-24. Rewind 10 years to 2006 and the story was almost the opposite. The percentage of drivers aged 15-19 involved in injury crashes (16.4 per cent) was at its highest since 1987, whereas the 60-plus segment made up 12.1 per cent.
In 2016, there was an even greater disparity between the ages of drivers involved in fatal crashes. In that year, 19.3 per cent of drivers were 60 or over, 10.9 per cent were between the ages of 15 and 19 and 13.7 per cent were aged 20 to 24.
Although startling, this figure is an improvement on just a few years ago. In 2014, drivers aged 60 and over made up 25 per cent of all fatal crashes.
All that said, these numbers cover a wide breadth of ages for the older drivers and just a handful for the younger ones.
Is it fair to compare a 60-year-old driver to someone much older who is more likely to be experiencing diminishing cognitive, physical or visual abilities, or requiring medication; scenarios that are more likely to impair their driving and impact their ability to assess hazards and react quickly? Perhaps not, but the fact is life expectancy is increasing thanks to improvements in medical treatment and care, and we are all more likely to reach an age when driving could present more hazards to ourselves and other road users.
On reaching 75 and 80, and every second birthday after that, drivers must obtain a medical certificate for their driving licence from a doctor. Your medical professional will check your overall health and eyesight, and subsequently decide whether you need to resit and pass an on-road safety test.
There are five potential outcomes of the medical examination, where you’re deemed:
●Medically fit to drive
●Medically fit to drive with conditions (e.g. corrective lenses, time-of-day or distance restrictions)
●Medically fit to drive subject to passing an on-road safety test
●In need of specialist referral (e.g. optometrist or occupational therapist driving assessor)
●Not medically fit to drive.
In the event of being declared not medically fit to drive, the doctor must advise the NZTA and your licence will expire on your birthday.
Preparing to pass
The good news is that the AA Driving School offers a free in-car coaching session to AA members over 74. This programme aims to help senior drivers prepare for a potential test resit, and familiarise them with the current road safety landscape and regulations and any changes that they should be aware of. An AA driving instructor will meet you at your preferred location and the session will take place in your own car.
The hour-long session includes a 30-minute drive along a route of your choice – perhaps you want a focus on motorway or night driving and a 15-minute top-and-tail review of the vehicle set-up and of your drive. You can book these online at aa.co.nz/senior-driver or by calling 0800 223 748.
When we take those calls from drivers who have been left high and dry without a licence, we often find out their upset is as much a result of the out-of-the-blue nature of losing their licence, as it is the fact that they’re not able to drive.
Nobody wants to hear that their driving may not be up to standard, but the vast majority, however, understand why it’s important to resit a test as they get older.
Keeping on top of any changes to the road code and making the most of any opportunity to upskill yourself with a qualified instructor will help to prepare you for when the time comes to resit.