When a 97-year-old driver is involved in a car crash, it can lead family and friends to question whether they are too old to drive. When that person is the Duke of Edinburgh, the debate is a national one.
First of all, it should be stressed the full circumstances of the accident are not yet known and Prince Philip may be entirely blameless. A witness reportedly said he had told police he had been “dazzled by the sun”.
The duke suffered “no injuries of concern” according to Buckingham Palace but the occupants of the other car were hurt; a 45-year-old woman suffered a broken wrist and a 28-year-old woman was treated for cuts but, thankfully, a nine-month-old baby was uninjured.
Such a crash might lead to demands for an upper age-limit for drivers, but this would be a mistake. Older drivers appear to be safer than the youngest motorists. According to research presented at the British Science Festival in 2016, men aged 17 to 21 are three to four times more likely to be involved in a crash than men or women in their 70s and above. Dr Charles Musselwhite said while older people’s reaction times were slower and they were more susceptible to glare from lights, they compensated by driving more carefully.
Furthermore, giving up driving left some older people feeling like they were “ready for the scrap heap”, he said. And stopping driving can be dangerous, as elderly people are more like to suffer a fatal accident while walking because of icy or cracked pavements and potholes.
But despite such facts, there is a risk that elderly drivers become demonised in the public’s mind, particularly given the increasing numbers of people living into their 80s, 90s and beyond. The current self-certification process may not inspire the necessary public confidence, so it is perhaps time for a rethink.
There should be a limit to any kind of ‘state testing’ of the population, but some kind of test, either on the road or in a simulator, might put everyone’s mind at rest. And there is also a strong case for eyesight to be checked – as suggested by an expert group two years ago.
Testing might see some lose their licences but could also mean drivers who have simply suffered a loss of confidence, rather than ability, could carry on driving when they otherwise would have stopped.