In the week a 90-year-old
woman caused a serious crash after driving the wrong way
along Dunedin's Southern Motorway, Debbie Porteous takes a
look at issue of older drivers on New Zealand roads.
Older age is not a reason to stop driving, and many New
Zealanders get behind the wheel well into their 90s, road
safety and older people's organisations say.
While bringing up a person's fitness to drive is a difficult
topic, it remains a crucial conversation to have in many
Dunedin City Council road safety co-ordinator Debra Palmer
said being able to drive was important for many older people
because it allowed them to remain independent and mobile. But
balancing quality of life for the older person and keeping
them, and others, safe on the roads was also important, she
Like their younger counterparts, older drivers had to take
responsibility. The council, New Zealand Transport Agency
(NZTA) and organisations like Age Concern were doing what
they could to educate older drivers about new rules and
regulations, safe driving and options for getting around the
city if they found themselves no longer able to drive. But
families also had a role in keeping an eye on older relatives
or providing advice and support as a person's driving ability
Ms Palmer said having those conversations was never going to
''It is a difficult one, because you can't take people's
''I wouldn't like people telling me I can't do something, I
would hope my relatives would be sensitive about it.''
It was also difficult because many older drivers - there are
174,293 drivers aged 75 or over in New Zealand, including
9362 in Otago - drove responsibly and safely.
''You can't sit in judgement of all older drivers and say all
older drivers are so and so ... but we can try to educate
people and make an effort to help those who would like
Niall Shepherd, from Age Concern, said he fielded more
queries about older drivers from family members than from
older drivers themselves.
But rather than judging, the organisation provided support
and information they hoped would help keep people safely
behind the wheel for as long as possible.
A spokesman said the NZTA also had information on its website
for senior drivers, including a test for people to assess
their driving skills.
Dunedin woman Terry MacTavish said there was a lot less
stress for her family now their 94-year-old mother, Shona
MacTavish, was no longer driving, although the older woman
found the sacrifice frustrating.
She had not driven since she was seriously injured in an
accident in Dunedin two years ago.
Ms MacTavish said her mother - still active - was
disappointed about not driving, but was managing ''perfectly
well'' using city services such as buses and discount taxis,
and calling on family for rides.
Under NZTA rules, unless someone's licence is revoked or
suspended, the job of deciding how long a person can continue
to drive often falls to their GP. A driver must renew their
licence at ages 75, 80 and every two years after that.
Renewal requires a medical certificate saying a person is fit
The Dunedin-based Best Practice Advocacy Centre noted in a
2010 article for GPs on older drivers it was sometimes
difficult to address the topic of driving fitness with
patients and was often forgotten during complex
The advocacy centre tells GPs to listen out for alarm bell
comments from patients and their relatives.
It recommends GPs make driving fitness part of their ''safety
net'' checklist at the end of each consultation to ensure
nothing has changed with the person between the licence
Dunedin road policing manager Senior Sergeant Phil McDouall
said it was difficult to say how big the problem of older
drivers not being fit to drive was. He believed it was a
hidden issue, and could worsen as the population aged.
Other than receiving calls from concerned relatives, police
usually only became aware of problems with the driving of an
older person if they were involved in a crash or police
received a report of dangerous driving.
Relatives often asked if police could have them taken off the
road, but police had no power to cancel people's licences.
In those cases, callers were referred to the NZTA or the
person's GP for advice.
Rules for re-licensing older drivers
• At 75, licence must be renewed and is valid for five years.
Must be renewed at 80 and every two years after that.
• Medical certificate required for licence renewal of people
aged 75 and over.
• After completing a clinical assessment, a GP may
- the patient is medically fit to drive;
- they are medically fit to drive with specified conditions
(e.g. automatic vehicle only, no night driving, within 10km
- they are medically fit to drive subject to an on-road
safety test or further specialist or occupational therapist
- the patient is not medically fit to drive.
• If a person is not medically fit to drive, or fails one of
the ordered tests, licence will expire on their next
• GP can advise person not to drive in the meantime. But if
they believe the person would drive, then the GP is required
to notify the NZTA, which would, if appropriate, suspend or
revoke the licence.
• Police cannot revoke licences.
• According to a yearly NZTA report, drivers aged 70 and over
were involved in 11% (45) of fatal crashes and 6% (885) of
all injury crashes in 2012.