Doddery drivers put the rest of us at risk

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The Independent Online
Motoring organisations called yesterday for urgent measures to improve driving conditions for the elderly as it emerged that the number of drivers in Britain over the age of 80 has risen to more than 330,000.

Steps to slow down traffic in urban areas, improve road visibility at night and make signs simpler are suggested as ways of reducing accidents involving older drivers. A report for the Automobile Association, The Safety of Older Car Drivers in the European Union, calls for changes in vehicle design to help elderly motorists cope with sensory and cognitive impairment and to give them greater protection against minor smashes, which are more often fatal to pensioners.

Figures released by Glenda Jackson, the transport minister, show there are 333,667 octogenarian motorists in Britain and 8,581 in their nineties. There are 23 men and four women drivers aged between 101 and 105.

Nearly 27 per cent of the drivers over 80 are women. The AA report found that the oldest group of drivers (85 and above) was the fastest-growing section of the motoring population, many of whom do not realise their driving is getting worse. "Some drivers remain unaware of the deterioration in their driving abilities," says the report. "They need to be encouraged to have their eyesight checked ... and be aware of the potential impairing effects of drugs taken for medicinal purposes."

Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport, urged GPs to be more explicit in stressing the effects of prescribed drugs on people's ability to drive. "Each year there are 100 million prescriptions for medicinal drugs which, if taken according to the prescription, would leave the person with slower reactions than if they failed a breathalyser test," he said. "That is a huge number of woozy people who are going round, often on the roads, not reacting as they should." Elderly people often depend heavily on their cars for independence and are reluctant to give them up.

Last month a nun, Sister Mary McFadyen, 83, agreed to stop driving after escaping serious injury in Orkney. Her car took off as she accelerated over a speed-ramp to avoid a motorcyclist. The car collided with a lamp- post before coming to rest in a supermarket bottle bank. Sister McFadyen, who had an unblemished driving record, used to drive daily to church but now relies on lifts from friends.