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Tuesday 28 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C
Alamy Stock Photo File image of a driver aged over 70
EU proposals

Proposal for drivers over 70 to undergo refresher courses is 'harmful', says leading expert

Professor Desmond O’Neill, a leading expert in geriatric medicine, expressed concern that older motorists could be driven off the road by the measures.

A PROPOSAL THAT motorists over 70 may have to undergo regular medical tests and refresher courses to renew their driving licence would be “ineffective and harmful”, according to a leading expert in geriatric medicine.

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

O’Neill expressed concern that older motorists could be driven off the road by inappropriate screening measures.

He claimed there was a widespread body of international research which demonstrated that older drivers were the safest group of motorists on roads around the world.

O’Neill said the European Commission appeared to have “a bit of a blind spot” about such findings given their latest recommendations.

“This is the myth that won’t die – that older drivers are more dangerous and that by screening them, we reduce crashes,” he remarked.

O’Neill said the screening of older drivers could also result in motorists becoming overconfident, resulting in more accidents, while it could also lead to increased deaths in more vulnerable road users.

He said it was important to recognise that safety was not the only issue to be considered as there are major benefits for increased mobility for older people so that they do not experience “traffic poverty.”

O’Neill claimed the blanket screening of older motorists based solely on age was also ineffective in terms of costs.

The proposals that motorists over 70 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.

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.

O’Neill today told a conference on improving road safety for older people that there was a lot of “misguided thinking” in relation to older motorists.

The consultant said key factors were ensuring good guidelines were in place for doctors and the public about medical conditions that could impair driving.

O’Neill recommended that motorists should have to self-declare about 27 such medical conditions at the time of renewing their driving licence and that it should be a criminal offence to make a false declaration.

He also suggested the introduction of restricted licences which would limit certain motorists to daytime driving or fixed speeds or distances.

O’Neill also called for improved car safety measures and noted that motor vehicles were largely designed for 30-year-old males weighing 70kg rather than 75-year-olds with fragile bones.

He said family doctors should be trained in traffic medicine in order to support older drivers with medical conditions.

“It still remains an area that’s not adequately provided to doctors because, with the right advice, you can continue driving safely for somewhat longer than people might have thought,” he remarked.

The conference was organised by the European Transport Safety Council which also published a new report on ways to reduce the deaths of older people on European roads.

It revealed that 5,400 people over 65 were killed on EU roads in 2021 of which 55% were vulnerable road users.

A third of all people aged over 65 killed in road traffic collisions are pedestrians, with the figure as high as 50% for fatalities in older women.

The ETSC, whose members including the Road Safety Authority in Ireland, has recommended a range of measures including improved access to public transport, more 30 km/h zones and better infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists including the construction of highly visible, as well as recognisable and uniform pedestrian crossings.

Seán McCárthaigh
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