Older drivers failing competency tests

Nearly half of all senior drivers referred by doctors for on-road competency tests this year have failed, Transport Ministry figures reveal.

Nationally, there are more than 5000 licensed drivers in their 90s on New Zealand roads, and 11 aged over 100.

Our oldest licensed motorist is from Northland - aged an impressive 104.

But with some aged motorists' driving ability failing, many present a danger to other motorists on the road.

This year, nearly 700 drivers aged 74 and older have undergone on-road safety tests after referrals from a doctor, with a 54 per cent pass rate.

Those who fail can have their license revoked.

Rotorua's top roading police officer Inspector Kevin Taylor called on families to help prevent more tragic crashes involving pensioner relatives.

Senior drivers had caused several fatal and serious injury crashes in the Bay of Plenty this year, he said. The tragedies were the result of inattention, confusion or lack of awareness.

In a bid to prevent more deaths, police planned to remove older drivers from the road if they were a "disaster waiting to happen".

"It's a fairly major move," he said. "You're not just taking away someone's licence, in a lot of cases you are removing their freedom of movement and severely impacting on their lifestyle."

Targeting dangerous older drivers was one of the 14 road policing priority areas, Mr Taylor said. But he did not put senior drivers in the same risk category as alcohol, drugs, young drivers, lack of seatbelts or motorcycling.

Automobile Association spokesman Mike Noon said it was desirable to keep older motorists driving as long as they could do so safely.

"The loss of mobility, the loss of the freedom for older drivers is really significant."

Currently, drivers must renew their licence at age 75, 80, and every two years after that.

To do so, they must obtain a medical certificate from their GP following a health and vision check.

After the health check, drivers are classified into one of five categories:

* Medically fit to drive without restrictions;
* Medically fit to drive with conditions;
* Medically fit to drive subject to passing an on-road safety test;
* Medically fit to drive subject to confirmation by a specialist;
* Not fit to drive - in which case the driver's license expires on their next birthday.

Mr Noon said typical conditions imposed included only driving within a certain distance of their home, or between certain hours - to keep senior drivers away from heavy traffic.

Many voluntarily stopped driving at night as lights became dazzling. They also avoided driving in heavy traffic, or around schools during drop-off and pick up times, Mr Noon said.

"They just use their vehicle in their immediate area - going to church, visiting friends, going to the supermarket."

Generally, older drivers were more conservative.

"They're not speeding, they're not doing anything outrageous on the road."

Transport Ministry figures show 18 drivers aged over 75 have been killed in crashes this year - three more than during the whole of 2011.

In the first 6 months of 2012, there were 12 fatal, 49 serious, and 241 minor injury crashes involving senior drivers.

Tauranga Age Concern chairwoman Angela Scott said the fact older divers were referred for competency tests indicated likely problems with their driving ability.

"For a doctor to make that call is a very sensible choice because it means older people and other drivers remain safe on the road.

"I think it's good to have a qualified person to help an older driver make the decision whether they're fit to drive or not."

Golden Years

Senior licensed drivers by age group:

* 75-79: 82,891

* 80-89: 76,011

* 90-99: 5617

* Over 100: 11


* 18 older drivers killed to date this year.

* 15 older drivers killed in 2011.

* 12 fatal, 49 serious, and 241 minor injury crashes involving drivers aged 75 or older in the first 6 months of 2012.

* 19 fatal, 93 serious, and 455 minor injury crashes involving driver aged 75 or older in 2011.

* 164,530 current licence holders aged 75 and above. 84,890 are male, and 79,639 female.

Source: Ministry of Transport, NZ Transport Agency.


- By Brendan Manning of APNZ

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