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Varadkar not in favour of strict cut-off ages and restrictions for older drivers

The EU Commission proposes motorists over 70 may have to undergo regular medical tests and refresher courses.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said he is more in favour of drivers being assessed on their cognitive and physical ability rather than age. 

When asked about a European Commission proposal that motorists may have to undergo regular medical tests and refresher courses to renew their driving licence, which critics say would impact older drivers disportionately, Varadkar said he’s always been of the view “that we should move away from the idea that there’s some sort of cut-off age when you’re supposed to retire or you’re not supposed to drive anymore”.

The proposals that motorists could be required to undergo regular medical tests and even refresher courses every five years are being put forward as part of a review of current EU rules on driving licences being conducted by the European Commission.

Other major changes being considered include mandatory training for professional van drivers as well as allowing children as young as 16 to drive cars that have been fitted with a speed-limiting device.

Professor Desmond O’Neill, the chairperson of the Irish Society of Physicians in Geriatric Medicine, claimed earlier this week that the controversial measure being proposed by the European Commission could have negative effects for many older people including vulnerable road users.

In Ireland, motorists aged 65-71 years can renew a licence up to their 75th birthday, while those aged 72-74 years are only able to obtain a three-year licence.

Any motorist aged 75 year or over can get either a one or three-year licence, subject to certification of fitness to drive by their doctor.

Speaking at the Fine Gael special conference in Maynooth, the Taoiseach said he was not up to date on the specifics on the proposal, Varadkar said “frailty affects people much later in life than it used to and I see loads of people in their 70s and early 80s who are as sharp mentally and physically as many people in their 40s and 50s are”.

“I think it does make sense not to have, kind of strict cut-off ages, but actually to assess people based on their cognitive ability and their physical ability,” he added.

Earlier in the week, the Taoiseach and relevant ministers discussed the recent increase in road deaths and measures which aim to reduce them.

Varadkar told the The Journal that there is going to be a “renewed focus” on road safety, stating that he is very “disturbed” that 166 people have lost their lives on Irish roads so far this.

“We need to turn the tide on that. I know we can do it because we’ve done it before. It means focusing on enforcement. That’s going to be stepped up over the next few months, the gardaí have committed to that,” he added. 

A public information campaign will also be rolled out by the Road Safety Authority over the next few months, the Taoiseach confirmed.

Other things being focused on is engineering and making our roads safer, as well as making sure that people can get their NCT tests and their driving tests on time, he said. 

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