We chat to our expert speaker, Lorna Easterbrook, on how hard it can be to bring up those difficult questions with those you care for.
The news, in February 2019, that the 97-year old Duke of Edinburgh has voluntarily handed in his driving licence was a very public reminder of a very common issue.
Knowing when and how to suggest to someone to stop driving in later life, is one of the most common questions people ask me, in webinars and seminars, about their older relatives and friends.
If someone’s age was a reliable predictor of when not to be a driver, there wouldn’t be any male drivers under the age of 25 on the roads: it’s young male drivers who are more likely than anyone else to cause or be in vehicle accidents. But it is drivers at the other end of the age spectrum on whom we tend to focus. Let’s look at some facts.
From the age of 70, and every 3 years from then, anyone wanting to keep their current driving licence has to apply for a new licence to the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority). What you’re really doing each time is self-declaring that you are okay to keep on driving. One of the things this means is that you are telling DVLA that your eyesight is good enough – which may include you needing to wear glasses or contact lenses while driving. There’s an easy – and, for those over 60 – a free way to check this out. Every 2 years everyone aged 60 or older can have a free eyesight test courtesy of the NHS, at any High Street optician: at 70, you can have a free test every year if an optician recommends it. (There are other people who also qualify for free eye tests – https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/help-with-health-costs/free-nhs-eye-tests-and-optical-vouchers/.)
Anyone wondering if an older relative or friend is still okay for driving would do worse than suggesting, first, that someone gets an up to date eye test – and then follows the advice given, whether to wear corrective lenses or something else. And, if the idea of tackling the conversation about stopping driving is causing anxiety, suggesting someone takes advantage of their free eye test is a neutral way to begin.
Sometimes it isn’t someone’s eyesight that’s a problem – it’s the fact that there are too many confusing road signs, And that they cause us confusion may have more to do with how we process visual images than with age. At around the same time as the Duke of Edinburgh was giving up his licence, a psychologist was winning her case against a fine for driving through a ‘bus gate’ (part of a road limited to buses, cycles and taxis). She won on the grounds that the signs were confusing – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-essex-47175357. So it’s also worth checking if there’s a particular part of a journey that’s causing problems because of something like this, and working together to find an alternative way round.
A next step might be to assess the person’s driving (and, maybe do this yourself, too!) – the Institute of Advanced Motorists offer this, as do RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) and, in some places, the local police force.
GPs and hospital doctors can tell the DVLA at any point if they have concerns that someone’s health or medical condition means they shouldn’t be driving. Doctors don’t need the person’s permission to do so. Nor is this just about age – they can reach that conclusion about any of us drivers, at any time.
At this point, I often suggest that everyone takes a look at the list of medical conditions that all drivers are required to the DVLA about – https://www.gov.uk/health-conditions-and-driving. Telling the DVLA doesn’t mean your licence – or mine – will automatically be taken away. But there is a £1,000 fine if it turns out you – or I – haven’t declared a condition that affects our driving. And, of course, if you have a medical condition that’s on the DVLA list, you should also tell your car insurer; this may push up the cost of your policy.
It’s quite sobering to read through the list and realise that drivers of all ages may not know about this requirement. And it’s a useful exercise in another way, since it can help us all to think through what it would feel like if we had to stop driving now, and what arrangements we’d need to put in place instead. Those are the sorts of things that can help any of us think through how to start these conversations, make those decisions ourselves, and find alternatives that really work. There are many things to suggest that can help – all covered in webinars and seminars, of course!