• Children under 5 years old need to learn what traffic is, that it can be dangerous, and simple ways of keeping safe, like holding hands
  • 1901 people were killed on GB roads in 2011
  • One of the best ways for children to be safer is for adults to set a good example when using the roads, on foot or in the car
  • The road environment is essential for children’s freedom, development and fitness but roads need to be treated with respect
  • 23,122 people were seriously injured on GB roads in 2011
  • 5 people every day are killed on GB roads
  • Primary school age is the best time for children to learn about using the roads safely, ready for more independent travel when they go up to secondary school
  • Most children under 9 years old are unable to judge how fast vehicles are going or how far away they are
  • LGVs were involved in 12,238 accidents in 2011, resulting in 191 deaths and 1,681 serious injuries
  • The risk of children being involved in a road accident rises when they start secondary school
  • The largest number of pedestrians who are hurt on the roads are between 11 and 15 years of age
  • HGVs were involved in 6,709 accidents in 2011, resulting in 259 deaths and 1,077 serious injuries
  • Secondary school children are likely to take greater risks without thinking about the potential consequences. Teenagers need to be taught how to assess these risks and make informed choices when using the road environment
  • Children are more likely to die in a road collision than from any other accidental cause – but let’s not focus on the negative – you can help!
  • Between ¼ and 1/3 of all road deaths and serious injuries involve people driving for work
  • In 2011 nearly 20% of all car occupants killed or seriously injured were 17-24 years old - when they start driving lessons a good road safety understanding will be invaluable
  • Every day of the year more than 150 vehicles driven on company business crash

srsCULTUREforOlderDrivers

Introduction

NEWS FLASH! One in five drivers on UK roads is over 65!

According to road safety charity the Institute of Advanced Motorists, there are more than seven million drivers over the age of 65 on the UK’s roads, which makes up 19% of all drivers with full driving licences.
Data published by the DVLA in December 2013 showed there were:
4,068,498 drivers over the age of 70 (expected to increase to around 5.8million by 2032)
1,101,779 drivers over the age of 80 (expected to increase to around 2million by 2032)
195 drivers over 100 years old
This may not seem to be much of a problem when research by the IAM also shows that older drivers are safer than many other drivers. We may have slower reaction times but we use our experience to avoid becoming a road casualty statistic.

However, the story is a lot more complicated than that:

  • Although older drivers tend to be safer, our age-related frailty makes us more susceptible to injury, possible complications that can lead to death and we often take a longer time to heal from our injuries
  • Drivers over 70 self-certify their fitness to drive – there is no compulsory medical check
  • The ageing process does affect driving ability but because it mostly creeps up on us slowly we are not always aware of any deterioration in our physical, visual and cognitive ability
  • We all age uniquely!
  • Most of us need to stay ‘on the road’ for as long as possible, to maintain our mobility and independence – other options such as walking or public transport may not be viable alternatives
  • Remaining independently mobile is essential for our self-esteem and quality of life
  • The road environment is becoming increasingly more complex, as are the vehicles we drive, and both the volume and speed of traffic has tended to increase making the driving task more complicated and requiring ever higher levels of concentration

So, this is the situation we find ourselves in:

The road environment is mostly complex – a convolution of junctions, roundabouts, lanes and varied speed limits, with a multitude of road markings and road signs, warnings, orders and information to help us make some sense of it all; we share this complicated environment with a variety of other road users of varying vulnerability and ability, from pedestrians to HGVs and from children and learner drivers to professional, highly trained drivers.

In any shared environment we usually have sets of rules to keep us safe from one another – in the road environment this is the Highway Code, some of which is law and the rest a Code of Practice. Currently the Highway Code has around 300 rules and pages of signs and road markings which we are all supposed to know! If we don’t know a rule, how can we keep it? And out of those rules we do know, so many of us are willing to break, or maybe just ‘bend’ the odd one or two, on our own personal agendas. Then there are those who are more deliberate rule-breakers – but we still have to share the road space with them. This makes the road environment a very unpredictable place.

The vehicles we drive around in are usually quite cosy inside – comfortable seats, heating, air conditioning, radio – a bit like the ‘front room’ at home really! Easy to forget they are actually made out of metal, hard plastics, glass – all materials that can be quite dangerous when damaged. Then they are weighed down with a big, heavy engine, filled with inflammable liquid, electrics, various chemicals such as battery acid and clutch fluid, and explosive capsules hidden in various places in order to let off the air-bags - complicated pieces of machinery with the capacity to be lethal weapons when things go wrong.

So, who do we let drive these vehicles? For cars, anyone who is over 17 and passes their test on the day. As long as they don’t get caught doing anything wrong, this gives them a licence to drive for the rest of their lives, whether they be a good, bad or indifferent driver.

And what do we expect of the driver? The ability to negotiate the complex and unpredictable environment, effectively, efficiently and above all safely, in the charge of this potentially lethal weapon. We do this by taking in information via our ears and mainly via our eyes – infront behind and all around, by reading road signs and taking heed of the information provided, analysing an ever-changing situation, second-guessing what everyone else is going to do, making contingency plans and snap decisions according to our analysis, converting these decisions into actions by instructing our hands and feet to operate the controls accordingly, at the same time as keeping an eye on the dashboard, working all the ancillary controls such as indicators and windscreen wipers, and communicating with other road-users and probably our passengers as well. Phew! That really is multi-tasking! No wonder driving can be so tiring.

So, this is my personal definition of driving – multi-tasking big time in charge of a lethal weapon whilst negotiating a complex and unpredictable environment!

Now don’t let any of this put you off driving – that absolutely isn’t the intention at all. But it is so easy just to turn the key and drive off without thinking about the responsibility we are taking. After all, people in the car with us are most likely to be family or friends – the people we care most about in the world – we have a duty to keep ourselves and our passengers safe as well as not be a danger to other road users.

Not to worry, we older drivers have experience on our side – road casualty statistics demonstrate this – so what is the problem then?

Here are some of the problems:

Basically, as we age, our physical, visual and cognitive abilities begin to deteriorate – admittedly at different rates and ages for each one of us, so we can’t say that everyone over a certain age must give up driving. But it is essential that we are honest with ourselves and aware of the changes in our capabilities. By understanding the risks we can take steps to minimise them.

Interestingly, in 2011, for drivers aged over 70 and who were involved in an accident, 46% were deemed to have failed to look properly, and 25% failed to judge the other persons path, speed and/or distance. We must ask ourselves why?




Medical conditions

We are required by law to notify the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) of some disabilities and medical conditions. These include diabetes, epilepsy, heart conditions, loss of mobility in any limb, lapses in consciousness, stroke, dementia and some eyesight conditions. This does not necessarily mean that we will lose our licence – the DVLA medical board will decide if our condition can be managed sufficiently for us to be safe to drive on a full licence, or they may issue a temporary licence or a licence only for an automatic car or one with specialist controls – but if we do have to give up driving it will be for our own safety and that of other road users.

Physical ability

Other medical conditions related to ageing, such as arthritis and spondylopathy, can cause stiffness, pain or weakness that can affect our driving by making it difficult to turn our heads to look all around, turn the steering wheel, or reach or use the controls.

Any decrease in neck flexibility will reduce our field of vision, which is an essential tool for keeping safe on the roads.

Most of us also shrink with age - my sons kindly told me way back on my 40th birthday that this was starting to happen! This can have an impact on our driving position and together with maybe having weaker leg and arm muscles, can encourage us to sit too close to the steering wheel, putting us in danger if the airbag should go off, and potentially making the seatbelt less effective.

Medication

Driving whilst impaired is against the law, so any medication we take that affects our ability to think clearly and react swiftly, whether prescribed or over-the-counter, will carry the same penalties as for those who drive under the influence of illegal drugs – loss of licence, a fine of up to £5,000 and even imprisonment.

Even everyday remedies such as cough and cold medicines, antihistamines, headache pills and painkillers can affect concentration and cause drowsiness. All medication that may have an adverse effect in this way will carry a warning (although this is often in very small print somewhere) and if it says ‘do not operate machinery’ remember that a car is a machine!

Mixing even a very small amount of alcohol with a medicine can impair our driving ability and we should also be very careful if taking more than one medication – if in any doubt we should ask our pharmacist or GP.

Eyesight

Deterioration in eyesight can be a very gradual process to which we adapt, so may go unnoticed. To drive safely it is essential to be able to see properly as most of the information we need to process comes into our brains via our eyes. The standard test for driving is to be able to read a car registration plate from 67feet away (20.5metres or approximately 5 car lengths) with glasses or contact lenses if used. If we can’t do this and we are driving then we can be prosecuted.

There are various age-related vision problems that can seriously impair our driving, such as glaucoma which restricts our peripheral vision, cataracts which cause blurred or hazy vision and macular degeneration where we lose our centre field of vision. We may also be slower at switching our focus between near and far, or the dashboard and the road ahead!

Hearing

With impaired hearing we may not hear a warning horn from another vehicle or the sirens of emergency vehicles. It can also affect our balance and spatial awareness.

Reaction times

Reaction times decrease with age. Add this to not spotting a hazard as efficiently as we used to, processing the information more slowly and being slower at the actual physical movement required – there is no doubt we have slowed down. Tests have shown that on average, drivers over 55 take 22 per cent longer to react than drivers under 30 - and they say it only takes 1 second for an accident to happen!

And here are some solutions:

The first thing we need to do is be aware of how we are driving, be honest with ourselves and listen to others’ concerns. Denial helps no-one and can put us and our loved ones in danger. Recognising our limitations and taking what are often simple steps to deal with them will help us stay on the road for as long as possible, and as safely as possible.

As well as ourselves, we should also think about driving conditions (time of day, weather, road layout and other road users) and our vehicle (type and size of vehicle, safety features, maintenance and in-car safety, including luggage, passengers, pets and children in car-seats)

Don’t be afraid to book a refresher lesson with an Approved Driving Instructor (ADI) – check that the ADI you choose is qualified to train experienced drivers and has an understanding of the physiological changes of the ageing process, and that over the years you will have developed a unique driving style that will not necessarily make you unsafe. You need them to help you identify anything that you are doing or not doing that is potentially unsafe, and to support you with strategies that assist you to overcome these. Most of us were taught to drive quite differently to the techniques applied to young drivers today, but we don’t need to go back to the beginning again.

An alternative is to book a driving assessment. Don’t worry – this is not for seeing if you need to stop driving – it is intended to help you to continue to drive and to keep you safe.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) and Mobility Centres will all be able to give you advice on this, and many Local Authorities run courses specifically for the Older Driver, where you can meet other like-minded people – “a problem shared is a problem halved!”

Useful links:
www.rospa.com
www.iam.org.uk
www.mobility-centres.org.uk




Medical Conditions

Don’t forget – some conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, heart conditions, loss of mobility in any limb, lapses in consciousness, stroke, dementia and some eyesight conditions MUST be notified to the DVLA by LAW! (Check on the DVLA website or ask your GP)

Useful links:
www.gov.uk/dvla

Physical ability

For any other physical conditions that might impact on our driving we should discuss them with our GP to find the solution to suit – maybe referral to a specialist, occupational therapy, light physical exercise such as walking, swimming, yoga, pilates to keep joints supple and improve flexibility, or maybe medication.

There are also a variety of simple and inexpensive adaptations available for the car, such as ‘blind spot’ mirrors, panoramic rear view mirrors, steering balls to aid steering and swivel seats to help you get in and out of the car.

Useful links:
www.mobility-centres.org.uk
www.rica.org.uk

In order to be comfortable as well as safe, we may need to adjust our seating position. Most modern cars allow more than just moving the seat forward or back – you can alter the height, lumbar support and rake of the seat as well as adjusting the steering wheel position and the height of the seat-belt and head-rest. If in doubt refer to your car hand-book – or better still book that refresher lesson and ask your ADI to help you find the best driving position for you!

It is essential to get this right for safety as well as comfort – you shouldn’t be closer than 12” (30cms) to the steering wheel or the airbag could injure you if deployed; the diagonal part of the seat-belt needs to work on the shoulder, not rub on the neck, and never put it under your arm or it will pull over your rib-cage in a sudden stop and possibly lead to life-threatening injury to vital organs such as heart and lungs; likewise the lap portion of the belt must work on the pelvis (tops of the legs) not across the abdomen where it could induce internal bleeding for example; the head-rest needs to be at the back of the head to prevent the head whipping back over the seat if you stop suddenly.

The seat-belt, airbags and head-rest need to work together to protect us in a crash – being in the correct seating position is crucial to protection from life-threatening injury!

Medication

Our pharmacist or GP can advise as to whether any medication we take could affect our driving, either on their own or in combination with other treatments. They need to find us a balance between affecting our driving and suppressing our symptoms so they need to know that we might be driving. We should also ask how long the drug is likely to stay in our system – we can then try to time our driving to fit in with when we take the medication. Our tolerance levels tend to decrease with age too, mainly due to loss of fat and muscle and our slower rate of metabolism, so medication and particularly alcohol can be more likely to affect our driving ability.

Eyesight

As we often don’t notice the deterioration in our eyesight it makes sense to get it checked more regularly, at least once a year. If you need glasses for driving, make sure they suit the purpose and maybe keep a spare pair in the car so that you can’t forget them. When driving I just couldn’t get on with the vari-focals I’d been prescribed and found the frames I liked when I looked in the mirror seemed to reduce my field of vision when I was driving, so I now have glasses specifically for the purpose! I had to change opticians to get sympathetic advice though!

There are apparently some eye-drops that can cause drowsiness too – remember to ask!

Wearing the right glasses is especially crucial when night-driving – and then there’s the obvious assistance to clear vision – making sure the windscreen and mirrors are clean and de-misted!

Hearing

If we have been prescribed a hearing aid to wear, that includes when we are out and about and especially when driving – reduced hearing can cause confusion, affect balance and spatial awareness and may mean we miss hearing something essential like emergency vehicle sirens. We are also more likely to have the car radio on too loud which might mask other sounds we need to be aware of such as the sound of the car engine – so often the first indication of something being wrong with the car, and giving us time to find somewhere safe to pull over.

Reaction times

As we age and our reactions get slower, it gets harder to process information as quickly as we need to, and our concentration spans decrease, we need to change our driving to suit. It’s a good idea to allow extra time for the journey so we are not under any pressure, plan in rest breaks if on a longer journey, slow our speed to give us more time to react especially when coming up to a junction or roundabout, and leave a bigger gap between ourselves and the vehicle in front. In fact, the experience we have gained over the years means we tend to self-regulate naturally in these respects, older drivers tending anyway to drive more slowly especially when negotiating a hazard, and to stay at a greater distance when following another vehicle.

We can also try to avoid driving at busy times of day, and in inclement weather when reduced visibility may give us less time to react. Avoiding distractions, anything that can divert our attention away from the driving conditions, especially in-car ones such as chatting to passengers and using the mobile phone (even hands-free) will allow us to concentrate better, notice hazards sooner and give us more time to react to them.

Always avoiding peak times may not be a good idea if you know that sometimes you will have to drive when it’s busy – we can get rusty and it could be quite nerve-wracking to suddenly have to go back to driving when the roads seem chaotic – let common-sense prevail, such as maybe finding another mode of transport for these occasions.




What about the car?

If we drive an older car it is worth thinking about trading it for a more recent model. Modern cars are usually easier to drive and give more protection against injury in the event of a collision.

They have a plethora of features which can make driving easier and safer for us – power steering, anti-lock braking, air-bags all round, air conditioning, cruise control, hill start assist, electric windows and wing mirrors, central locking, parking sensors, automatic headlights and wipers, clearer dashboard dials, the ability to alter the seating position and seat-belts, better crumple zones, more economical fuel consumption…..…… the list goes on!

If we do upgrade, we need to make sure we know how to use/operate all these features – refer to the handbook, ask the dealer to explain them all, or book that refresher lesson so that the ADI can take the time to teach you how to use the features properly.

Some people move on to an automatic car – once again think carefully about it before making the decision and have a lesson in one – old habits die hard and hitting the wrong pedal at the wrong time could cause a collision – on the other hand once adapted to the automatic gear changes it can be much less arduous to drive.

Whatever age our car, maintaining it properly is important to keep safe – regular servicing, checking fluid levels, tyre pressures and tread depths, windscreen wash bottles and wiper condition and that all the lights are working.

Bad Weather Driving

We should all try to avoid driving in bad weather, especially in the winter. Snow, ice, rain, floods can all make the journey more dangerous.

If you have to travel, check the weather forecast and the route, let someone know your planned route and your expected time of arrival. Check the car over, and load up an ‘emergency kit’ as outlined below.

Remember to keep a hi-vis jacket or tabard in the car with you – should you need to stop, or you breakdown you need to put this on before exiting the vehicle, not have to go round to the boot to get it!

  • First aid kit
  • De-icer and ice-scraper
  • Torch
  • Fully charged mobile phone (preferably with useful numbers pre- loaded in to it)
  • Breakdown cover policy number and contact details
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Warm clothes/blanket
  • Map
  • Food, flask and water
  • Sunglasses
  • Welly boots
  • Emergency puncture repair kit (if your car doesn’t have a spare wheel)
  • Shovel for snow in the winter

Any of these items that have to be stored in the car rather than the boot, must be properly secured so they cannot fly about and injure you in the event of a collision

In-car Safety and travelling children

For full information on this please go to the relevant section on our website. Click here

Basically, anything loose in the car in the event of a sudden stop, whether it is luggage, shopping, pets, passengers or children, will go flying round the car at the speed it was going at until they hit something to stop them or they fly out of the car!

This means that we need to keep our cars tidy and keep everything stowed safely in the boot or in the various compartments provided for the purpose, door pockets etc. so that items don’t hit and injure us in a collision.

It is the driver’s responsibility in law to ensure that everyone in their car 14 years and under are securely belted in, in a child car seat appropriate to their weight, height and age if they are under 135cms (4’5”) or under 12yrs old.

Not all car seats fit all cars and they are not all straightforward to fit, so do not let your children dump grandchildren and car-seat on you and leave you to get on with it! Children are probably the most precious cargo you will carry and it never ceases to amaze road safety professionals the lengths some people will go to in order to protect eggs, china, glassware etc yet travel their children not properly restrained!

Lecture over!!

Seek help from the child car-seat retailer or manufacturer, RoSPA, your local authority’s road safety team, go to www.goodeggsafety.com for the on-line version of the Good Egg Guide to In-car Child Safety or - Click Here for our advice section on this topic.

Choosing when to stop driving

UK driving licences expire when we reach 70 when we are expected to renew our licence every three years and self-declare that we are still fit and able to drive safely.

This is when we need to be honest with ourselves and aware of how we are driving. If our passengers, family or friends voice their concerns we should at least listen to them and consider our options.

We have been through all sorts of solutions in this article to keep us on the road for as long as possible, but there is likely to come a time when we do need to think seriously about giving up our car. This time will be easier to deal with if we have already done some forward planning.

For some of us, because of where we live or the places we need to travel to, this will be really hard to do, especially if walking and/or public transport aren’t an option. Doing some research well in advance will make the transition to life without the car so much easier.

For example, find out about any public transport or community transport available, ask at your doctors’ surgery about ambulance cars, club together with neighbours to investigate shared transport for shopping trips, investigate the possibility of shopping on-line.

The internet is a great way of keeping in touch with people and shopping for goods and services so if you are not confident with using the internet find out if there are any community courses available and book on one now – don’t leave it until you have to give up the car. Your local council, library, community centre or AgeUK may all be able to help.

Useful links:
www.ageuk.org.uk

It is up to each one of us to take the responsibility for managing our driving career as we age, including the transition to life without the car. Sometimes we can find ourselves having to stop driving unexpectedly, maybe because of heart or stroke problems for example, so we shouldn’t procrastinate the planning, even to the extent of considering if we should move house to somewhere easier to manage without a car.

Equally we may be thrown into the position of having to start driving again when we haven’t driven for some time, perhaps if our partner who usually does the driving has to stop – so it’s a good idea to keep our hand in and if this does happen to you, consider booking that refresher lesson.

Giving up the car can save a considerable amount of money on maintenance, insurance, tax and running costs, so for some people it is more economical to give up the car and use the alternatives such as taxis or minicabs for essential journeys.

In summary:

  • As we age many things can make driving more difficult and we need to be aware of them and honest with ourselves to make sure we stay safe on the road but can keep driving for as long as possible, in order to maintain our independence and self-esteem
  • If family and friends express concern we owe it to them to listen and to take appropriate action if necessary
  • We should take care of our health, keep as fit and flexible as we can and be aware of the effects on our driving of any medication we are taking
  • We MUST declare those conditions listed by the DVLA if we know that we have them
  • Regular eyesight and hearing checks are essential
  • We should think about how we drive, where we drive and when we drive
  • Journeys, particularly longer ones, should be planned including rest breaks
  • We can update our driving skills by booking a driver assessment or refresher lesson
  • We can think about changing or adapting our car to meet our needs
  • We can adapt our driving to account for our slower reactions
  • We can plan ahead, ready for the time when we have to give up driving, whether we progress towards it or it happens suddenly
  • If we tackle this positively, and work with our family and friends to solve the problems, then we will be in control of managing the process and the decisions made will be ours and not someone else’s
  • It is worth remembering that none of us are alone in this – not if one in five drivers are over 65 and there are 4 million of us over 70!!

For more information go to:
www.olderpersonsroadsafety.co.uk/
www.stillsafetodrive.org.uk/