Ministers urged to act on call for eye tests for older drivers in wake of duke's crash

Older drivers should have eye tests to check they are safe to drive, motoring groups have urged in the wake of the Duke of Edinburgh's car crash.

The Queens 97-year-old husband escaped without serious injury when his Land Rover Freelander collided with a Kia as he pulled out of the Sandringham Estate onto a main road. Picture: Haydn West/PA Wire

They criticised the UK Government for not acting on the recommendation from an expert group two years ago.

Norfolk Constabulary said the collision on Thursday would be “investigated and any appropriate action taken”.

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The Queen’s 97-year-old husband escaped without serious injury when his Land Rover Freelander collided with a Kia as he pulled out of the Sandringham Estate onto a main road.

Prince Philip underwent a precautionary check-up in hospital yesterday, which Buckingham Palace said confirmed he had “no injuries of concern”.

The 28-year-old female Kia driver suffered cuts to her knee and her 45-year-old female passenger broke a wrist, but a nine-month-old boy with them was uninjured.

Eyewitness Roy Warne said he overheard the duke telling police he had been “dazzled by the sun”.

Driving experts said older motorists had lower risks than younger drivers, but safeguards should be introduced.

They backed a report by the Older Drivers Task Force in 2016 which called for eyesight tests when drivers reached 75.

It said vision checks should also be encouraged every two years for those over 60.

The taskforce said: “There is as yet no general ‘marker’ providing warning that an individual may not be fit to drive. “Poor eyesight is a high risk medical condition associated with driving.

“There is evidence that when the police offer driving assessments as an alternative to prosecution, nearly 70 per cent of those assessed require eyesight correction.”

Road safety group Brake has called for compulsory vision tests for all drivers at least every ten years when they renew their licence photocard.

An investigation into the death of three pensioners whose car was hit by a train on a level crossing in Caithness ten years ago concluded the most likely cause was the 81-year-old driver’s poor eyesight. Glare from the low sun was also a likely factor.

The task force also recommended raising the age when drivers must declare any medical condition that might affect their driving from 70 to 75.

This “tick box” self-assessment form must be returned every three years thereafter.

It said the requirement was introduced more than 50 years ago when life spans were a decade shorter, and there was “no convincing evidence” drivers aged 70-75 presented a special general risk.

Drivers are urged to check with their doctor before completing the form and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) may make further investigations based on the declaration made.

Scottish Government figures for 2017 showed drivers over 70 had the lowest casualty rate, of 0.84 per thousand population compared to between 1.05 and 2.49 for other age groups.

This is despite more older drivers on the roads, with 15 per cent of those over 80 driving daily in 2016 compared to 12 per cent five years before, according to the official Scottish Household Survey.

In addition, 43 per cent of the over 80s still had their licence in 2016 - up from 35 per cent in 2011.

The DVLA said no Scottish figures for licence holders were available, but there were 110,790 people aged 90 or over in Britain with driving licences in November.

These included 314 aged at least 100 and four 107-year-olds, although some may rarely or no longer drive.

Neil Greig, the Scotland-based policy and research director of the IAM RoadSmart motoring group, said: “While every driver is different, we support the findings of the task force that the age of licence renewal be raised to 75 but with evidence of an eye test also required.

“We would also like to see more encouragement for drivers of all ages to take voluntary driving reviews to help them make informed choices about their driving skills.

“The fact the UK Government has yet to respond to this report despite it being published over two years ago is a concern for all road users, young and old.”

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, of which the duke is a former president, said making older motorists re-take a driving test was a “red herring”.

Nick Lloyd, its acting head of road safety, said: “Age is a completely arbitrary and unreliable measure for assessing someone’s ability to drive.”

Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety executive director David Davies said: “Older drivers tend to limit their risks, driving more slowly, on roads they know and during daylight. But they are more frail and liable to injury in the case of a collision.

“Health and driving ability are the key factors, not age.”

Research has shown more stringent licence renewal systems in some European countries and Australia have not increased road safety but have caused mobility problems.

A UK Department for Transport spokesperson said: “Age on its own is not a barrier to safe driving.

“We will deliver a refreshed road safety statement this year, as well as a two-year action plan to address four priority user groups – rural road users, young people, motorcyclists and older road users.”

COMMENT: Edmund King - ‘Giving up driving should be based on medical advice not arbitrary age’

If driving restrictions based on age and safety were introduced we would be more likely to restrict young drivers rather than older drivers.

Young, predominantly male, drivers are much more likely to crash within six months of passing their test than older drivers within six months of hanging up their keys.

Older drivers often self-restrict their driving by not driving at night and only driving on familiar roads.“The decision to hang up your keys is a tough one but should be based on personal advice from your GP and family rather than being based on some arbitrary age.

We all age differently and the car is an essential lifeline for many elderly people.

The risk profile of older drivers does rise over the age of 75 years of age so there is more that could be done.

The Older Drivers Taskforce recommended that after the age of 70 drivers should have to show evidence every two years that they have had a full eye test and are still able to drive.

More than 80 per cent of older drivers would support such a change.

We also feel that older drivers should consider signing up for voluntary assessments of their driving.

There are many thousands of older drivers in rural parts of Scotland where the car is a lifeline as the only way of getting around.

However, if the driver’s doctor, in conjunction with the driver’s family, feel it is time to hang up the keys, then that advice should be heeded.

Many older drivers will be looking forward to the advent of driverless cars so that their personal freedom and mobility lasts until the end of their lives.

Until then, many will want to remain behind the wheel.

• Edmund King is president of the Automobile Association