We all know that certain drivers are required to display ‘L’ or ‘P’ plates and comply with lower maximum speed limits, and a zero blood alcohol limit.
We also know that elderly people can gradually lose their eyesight and physical skills over time, which can affect their driving ability and even lead to the cancellation of their licences.
Now, there are calls for elderly drivers to display ‘S’ plates and comply with driving restrictions.
S Plates for Seniors
Insurance company QBE has proposed the introduction of an ‘S’ plate driving category, which would also subject seniors to time curfews and prohibited them from driving outside their local area.
QBE has suggested an opt-in system which would see ‘black boxes’ installed into the cars of elderly people in order to restrict their driving. The company believes that this would allow the elderly to keep driving rather than cancelling their licences, while providing a “safety net” to the community.
Company spokesperson Frank Peppard believes that:
“This will save lives… Older people should not fear his – it’s to offer them greater options to retain mobility while providing a safety net for the community.”
But not everyone thinks that targeting seniors is a good idea.
National Seniors Australia Chairman David Carvosso has accused QBE of ageism because the idea is based on a person’s age, rather than their actual driving ability. But rather than dismiss the idea altogether, Carvosso believes that the QBE ‘black box’ should “be applied to everybody from 17 upwards. We can learn lessons from drivers of all ages.”
Current Restrictions in NSW
NSW drivers who are 75 years and over currently need to undertake a medical review every year in order to keep their licences.
Once they hit 85, they are required to complete a practical driving test every two years. They have three attempts to pass the test before their licence is taken away.
The other option is to exchange their unrestricted licence for a modified one, which means they won’t need to take the practical test each year. The modified licence restricts drivers to certain distances and times of the day.
The requirements for older drivers in other states are not so strict. In Victoria, for example, there is no mandatory licence test, although drivers over 75 must renew their licences every three years. There, the onus is on drivers to be aware of the impact that aging can have and get medical checkups if they are unsure about their driving ability.
Victoria does, however, have a ‘dob in a driver’ scheme – and anyone who fails a VicRoads medical review can face driving restrictions or even licence cancellation.
Impact of Losing a Licence
Some people see elderly drivers as a source of frustration and even danger.
But while public safety is always a concern, we should remember that losing a driver licence can have a devastating impact upon our seniors – potentially leading to social isolation and depression.
For those living outside heavily populated areas like Sydney, having a driver licence may be the only way to perform basic tasks like shopping, attending medical appointments, and staying in touch with friends, family and the outside world. So we should think very carefully before depriving our seniors of their ability to drive.
It is also important to bear in mind that driving experience can overcome some of the negative effects of aging, and statistics show that the category of drivers who have the most crashes is the youngest age bracket – between 17-25 years – not our seniors.
The number of seniors on our roads is predicted to rise over time, as life expectancies increase and we have better quality healthcare.
In Victoria last year, there were 58 drivers aged over 100 and more than 13,000 in their 90s. Perhaps due to stricter rules in NSW, the number of elderly drivers here is not as high, with over 8,000 NSW drivers over 90 years old, and just a handful over 100 years old.