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Discussion point: restrictions on elderly drivers

“Over-70s facing driving curfew in licence shake-up”, reports the Times.

Before you pile in, the headline is misleading. What is being proposed is actually a relaxation of existing regulations:

Over-70s in poor health may be allowed to continue driving if they agree to fit a tracking device restricting them to daylight hours near their home.

That could be liberating. Or it could be a Trojan horse. First elderly people with health problems, then elderly people in general and sick people in general… what other groups might the government decide need to be tracked?

Licences expire when drivers turn 70, and those wanting to keep driving must inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) of medical conditions such as dementia, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, diabetes — if it is treated with insulin — and any condition that affects both eyes or the total loss of sight in one eye. Reviews follow every three years.

Under the proposals discussed at a meeting this month between the DVLA and Driving Mobility, the official network of driving assessment centres, the over-70s could be eligible for “graduated driving licences”. These would potentially restrict them to a radius of 20 or 30 miles from home and bar them from night driving. They would apply only to those who would otherwise face losing their licence because of ill health.

Edward Trewhella, chief executive of Driving Mobility, said: “A lot of older drivers stick within their own locality — they go to the shop, the doctor’s surgery, go and see a granddaughter down the road, probably on minor roads with which they are familiar. This process would regularise that, and make it legal for them to do so as long as they didn’t take a trip outside of an area or outside of a time restriction. That would mean that they were driving safely within their familiar environment.”

For many elderly people, especially those who live where public transport is poor, the ability to drive is the difference between an active, sociable, productive life and imprisonment until death.

And yet –

Patricia Colquhoun, 69, lost her son, Neil, 28, when Turner Waddell, 90, a one-eyed retired GP with dementia, drove a mile the wrong way down a dual carriageway. Colquhoun, who lives in Hampshire, said the current system, which relies on self-referral, is flawed. “Nobody likes to say they’re old. They all say, ‘There’s nothing wrong with me.’

36 comments to Discussion point: restrictions on elderly drivers

  • staghounds

    If it saves one life! Put the collar on, old man!!!

  • Jacob

    It’s better to be allowed to drive a limited distance with a tracking device than to be forbidden to drive at all. And you are free to opt to give up driving (or be driven by a chauffeur). I suppose the tracking device is on you car, not on your body. So, there is nothing sinister about it.

  • Ian

    I think we all accept there have to be minimum standards of competency when driving a one- or two-ton piece of machinery. And I don’t think we’d accept a six-year-old driving daddy’s car (even if she could). But I’ve always thought that an essential element of any driving test ought to be based on reflexes and skill, not just the ability to understand and follow the Highway Code. I propose a standard under which drivers would have to do a lap around a racing circuit in under a given time. Not only would this increase road safety, it would also introduce an entirely new form of spectator sport.

  • Mr Ed

    But US Presidents are exempt. And will they stop Lords and MP over 70 from voting on anything unless they have a tracker fitted? If not, why not?

    What’s wrong with a re-test at 75, 80, 82 etc. ? Or a simulator test?

  • Gene

    They’ve got to fine-tune the tracking system that will be preventing all of us from driving “too far,” using “too much gasoline,” or driving “the wrong kind of car”–all coming to a nation near you by 2030.

  • CaotDMO

    I’m not seeing the bit about autonomous electric cars.

  • pete

    ‘especially those who live where public transport is poor’

    ie outside London.

    The DVLA should consider trackers for young male drivers. They are by far the most dangerous people on the road.

  • Eric

    The DVLA should consider trackers for young male drivers. They are by far the most dangerous people on the road.

    That’s exactly the mental road they want you to start driving down.

  • GregWA

    …or prosecute the old coot for manslaughter or whatever crime is appropriate. The family then sues and takes his estate or some fraction of it as compensation to the dead kid’s family. THAT might ensure that the families, i.e., inheritors, of other 90-somethings keep a close eye on grandad! [and hopefully the judge would not send grandad to prison unless he’d been previously warned, cited for similar screwups, etc.]

    Let your family be your restraining collar! 🙂

  • pete

    Eric, roads are public places, not private ones.

    I have no problem with government measures to try to make them safer by data driven restrictions on some people.

    If you want to race around like Lewis Hamilton on your own land then I don’t think the government should interfere.

    Please don’t though. The NHS has enough on its plate as it is.

  • bobby b

    Why not leave it to the auto insurers to determine if their customers can still drive competently? That’s the way it works now, and it generally does work. (In the US, without insurance, you cannot drive.) That’s the way we actually enforce many safety conventions in society.

    Long ago, (long ago!) I built amusement park rides. The government “safety test” for a new roller coaster consisted of a government inspector checking that our queue-line railings were of proper height, and that our insurer was covering the ride. The insurer performed all of the real safety checks – it had the skin in the game to do it properly. It was just generally conceded that government had no expertise in the area, and so they left it to those who did.

    March 28, 2021 at 5:55 pm

    “It’s better to be allowed to drive a limited distance with a tracking device than to be forbidden to drive at all.”

    It’s better to lose only one arm to a maniac with an ax than to lose both arms. Neither scenario is good.

    It’s a tough issue. Deprive seniors of the freedom of driving, and their quality of life takes a severe beating. Let the functionally-blind drive, and the roads are no fun. But the actual numbers – of blind oldsters crashing, of dementia patients running down kids in crosswalks – don’t really point to this being a huge problem.

  • bobby b

    March 28, 2021 at 8:22 pm

    “I have no problem with government measures to try to make them safer by data driven restrictions on some people.”


    After a lifetime of experience, I cross the road at night if I’m coming to a group of young minority males. That’s “data-driven”, but I’m told it’s bad. Age is just as immutable as race.

  • Jon Eds

    We should not empower the state by granting it access to new technology that can and will be abused. Also see ‘vaccine passports’.

    In this case the solution is simple. Make the elderly retake their test every 5 years from the age of 65. Simples. No new technology involved. Everybody gets it.

    And Pete, please take a hike. This is a place for people unreasonably committed to liberty. Not people who might give it a go ‘if safe’.

  • Ferox

    Raise your hand if you think this technology will stop with limiting the rights of people who are physically impaired from safe driving … and not, say, those with unpopular (i.e. non-woke) political views, or those who have participated in anti-government protests, or those who said something which got blocked on Facebook. If you have mentioned Muslim rape gangs on Twitter, will your driving range be restricted? Stay tuned!

    Now, if you have your hand up, you need to go back and review the last 5 years to get your head straight.

  • pete

    Jon, I’ve always thought this place welcomes free speech and a diversity of opinion, and dislikes censorship.

    I’ve had no indication yet that it doesn’t. Maybe you should take a hike if you don’t like what some people post.

  • johnd2008

    I am old (83)and still driving. I live now in New Zealand and am required to be examined by my Doctor every two years to ensure that I am fit and active enough to not pose a threat to myself or anyone else. My eyes are also tested regularly.I was still in the UK when I passed 70 and just had to self certify. I recommend the NZ method.

  • APL

    “Patricia Colquhoun, 69, lost her son, Neil, 28, when Turner Waddell, 90, a one-eyed retired GP with dementia, drove a mile the wrong way down a dual carriageway.”

    Hard cases make bad law.

    But then the modern fad is to take every personal tragedy and turn it into a repressive law. Living in a city, I don’t drive much, but am aware that with advancing years, my reaction times are declining, given that a bus* runs right past my front door I would not be too inconvenienced if in ten or so years my driving licence was revoked. Add to that there are just a ‘shed load’ of inconsiderate drivers on the roads. Not to mention the insurance scammers.

    The solution may be to issue every elderly driver with a Tesla. Then when the accident occurs, he ( masculine includes the feminine ) can blame the computer

    *Then I suppose a car is still marginally more safe and secure than public transport.

  • Fraser Orr

    Aside from my growing curiosity as to know the story about Bobby, our resident lawyer, building amusement park rides…

    My feeling is that if we concede that the government has the right to require a driving test to allow people to drive, it seems only reasonable to concede that it require you to do one ever five or ten years. That would seem to solve the problem.

    Having said that, my son recently passed his driving test here in Illinois. It was embarrassingly easy. No three point turns or maneuvers of any kind. He drove around the block and didn’t even encounter traffic. They didn’t even require an emergency stop. There is a reason they simplified the driving test to minimize time in the car with the tester. Anyone want to guess why? Is it a good trade off to release lots of incompetent drivers on the road because of a ridiculously overblown concern about covid?

    Regarding this precautionary principle, I found this on the web, which seemed to encapsulate my feelings on it: https://dilbert.com/strip/2021-03-19

  • Eric

    I have no problem with government measures to try to make them safer by data driven restrictions on some people.

    I don’t like this kind of creeping safty-ism. You want to restrict young men in some way. Well, the roads would be even safer if the government ensured people who don’t have a good reason to be in their cars don’t use them. After all, you can take public transportation if you’re just off to the beach for a day. Just think how much society would save in money and lives if only people deemed necessary are allowed to drive!

    It’s a long road, and there’s no end to it. Or rather, the end is those of us who aren’t somehow wealthy or connected will be travelling by bus so the roads are safe for the important people.

  • Ferox

    It’s a long road, and there’s no end to it. Or rather, the end is those of us who aren’t somehow wealthy or connected will be travelling by bus so the roads are safe for the important people.

    By a mysterious coincidence, that is also the end of the road for ever-upwardly spiraling gasoline prices (driven almost entirely by ever-increasing taxes).

    A cynical person could be forgiven for wondering if that was the primary rather than the secondary goal.

  • JohnK

    Sounds a lot like “common sense” gun control to me.

  • Paul Marks

    Most major roads used to be private Turnpike Trusts – the private owners should decide who can drive on the private roads.

    As for roads in towns – the Dukes of Westminster and other developers used to be in charge of the roads for their developments. The modern idea of a private developer building a lot of houses and then expecting their (often SUBSTANDARD) roads, drainage and pavements, to be “adopted” by local councils (for repairs that often amount to rebuilding) is not good – indeed not acceptable.

    Sorry but building houses, flats, offices and so on and then WALKING AWAY leaving it all to local government – is not free enterprise, it is disguised CORPORATE WELFARE for the builders.

    Traffic problems and traffic control are not something that private housing estate buildings should be able to “dump” on the taxpayers – and elderly drivers are part of that.

    By the way – most accidents are caused by young drivers, so the whole thing is daft anyway.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    The Precautionary Principle in action.

    Surely anyone at 70 renewing a licence should instead have a solid health check. That would actually focus on the actual issue.

    This is basically a curfew on the elderly. It’s particularly bad for those without access to public transport or a cheap taxi.

    As the population ages, this is going to be increasingly unpopular as a measure.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Makes more sense for motorists over 70 to undergo a health check, just as a private pilot does. No need to impose a curfew on millions of people and wrecking their social lives.

    When people come up with these schemes, do they actually think?

  • Jacob

    “No need to impose a curfew on millions of people and wrecking their social lives.”
    The idea was to impose limitations only on those who have failed the normal test. The tracking device doesn’t impose a new limitation, it rather gives you partial exemption from a limitation already imposed.

  • llamas

    The original article does make it clear that the idea of ‘limited’ driving licenses is being mooted only for those who would otherwise lose their license entirely for health reasons. I’m not sure that part is clear to some commenters. That being said, thin end of the wedge and all that.

    But what troubles me is that this is immediately mooted in terms of a whole bureaucratic and technological system, with tracking devices and such. That is a wedge with a very thin end. Why not start by simply saying to these folks ‘your license is now restricted, you may not drive between these times (hours of darkness) and you may not drive on divided highways or more than X miles from home. Be careful.’ I have restrictions on my driving license which are entirely self-enforced, why do we think that old folks can’t self-enforce similar restrictions?

    As others have said, singular cases make terrible law. And a lot more lives would be saved by enforcing laws against distracted driving than by going after particular demographics.



  • llamas

    bobby b. wrote

    ‘(In the US, without insurance, you cannot drive.)’

    and me laugh like large drain. It’s well-known (and a lawyer must know this 😜) that up to 30% of US drivers in some areas are driving without effective insurance for third-party risks. In this part of the world, it is so common that the state actually levies a fee upon those that do pay for auto insurance to fund a state program to compensate those who are injured by uninsured drivers – in the murkier parts of Detroit, this is referred to as ‘I don’t need that, I got the state insurance’.

    I’m not so keen on letting insurance alone handle third-party risks like this – the moral hazard is that somebody may keep driving who really shouldn’t simply because they are wiling to pay steep premiums. This is an area of public and distributed risk where, it seems to me, a disinterested state intervention is appropriate.



    p.s I also want to know about the carnival rides 😉

  • APL

    llamas: “and me laugh like large drain.”

    I must admit I did rather chuckle at that myself.

    For example.

  • Penseivat

    Just before reading this, I read, on Julia’s blog, about a 21 year old university graduate who died when he lost control of his car, seriously injuring the passengers who, presumably, were his friends. His alcohol intake was part of the reason, but perhaps lack of driving experience or youthful showing off were also relevant. As someone in their late 70’s (and in good health at the moment, cough, cough), and who regularly drives several hundred miles to visit family, I would suggest that, before the government even begins to discuss this plan, they compare the figures of serious road traffic collisions amongst the over 70’s and the below 25’s. Perhaps it’s the wrong age group they should be looking at restricting?

  • DP

    Dear Miss Solent

    I believe all drivers are required to notify the DVLA of any change to their health or ability which will affect their fitness to drive on a public road.

    There is a case to be made for restricted licenses – they already exist: mine does not permit me to drive a heavy goods vehicle, bus or a motorcycle, and if a driver passed his test on an automatic car, he could not drive a manual one without passing a manual test.

    A single example of a road traffic fatality involving a one-eyed nonagenarian is not grounds for wide-ranging restrictions on all elderly and partially disabled motorists, any more than a single example of a 24 year old boy racer killing other road users should visit restrictions upon anyone under the age of 25.

    When my nephews passed their driving tests I pointed out to them that they could now start to learn to drive. A life time learning curve. Hopefully a long one.


  • bobby b

    March 29, 2021 at 3:04 pm

    “bobby b. wrote

    ‘(In the US, without insurance, you cannot drive.)’

    and me laugh like large drain”

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. 😉

    If a driver is already in willing violation of the law, is a provisional license restriction going to slow them down? They’ve not yet made an ankle bracelet you can’t remove.

    Face it – none of these laws work on people who don’t follow laws. It’s like gun control – let’s regulate the law-abiding because the skells are out of control. Let’s make a law prohibiting already-illegal drivers from driving at night or on freeways. That’ll stop em!

    I’d rather have the insurers hire more people to administer this – to decide if I’m still able to drive – than my state. Does the state’s tracking device beep and call when I’m driving at night? How about when I’m behind on tax payments, or attended a recent Trump rally, or insulted a minority on Twitter?

    A tamperproof transmitter seems to me to be the ultimate orgasm for the social-credit aficionado. Step one – get them on old drivers. Step two – get them on all drivers (“imagine how much this would help all traffic enforcement!”). Since we already have them, and it’s so convenient, Step Three – beep if it’s a deplorable. Maybe I’m paranoid. I don’t think so.

    I’d have to see hordes being slaughtered in the streets by demented oldsters before I’d accept this as a solution. Overkill with a purpose.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    So how do people feel about Prince Phillip and his deploreable driving skills? Should he be allowed out on the roads, or confined to a home for the permanently bewildered? Or be given a slap on the wrist by the Queen? And can the Queen drive? Or is she so used to being driven that she has lost her driving skills?

  • Paul Marks

    If we are going to have a system of government roads, which we did not use to have, then why not a test every few years. Or even every year?

    Not just for the over 70s – but for everyone.

    The bureaucracy would be expensive and irritating – but in a nation where 400 Billion Pounds is spent as if it was a shilling (and not even a silver shilling). That is not really an argument.

    I am sure that some people would be put off driving by this constant demand for testing and so on – but that would help us meet the goals of Agenda 21 – Agenda 2030 (“sustainable development”) which was not at first “legally binding”, but was de facto put into the laws and “Policy” of national and local government years ago.

  • This is an issue of significant concern here in Japan as the proportion of elderly (over 70) drivers involved in accidents is notably higher than their proportion of total drivers and the cases where a driver manages to kill or main numerous pedestrians seem to be almost exclusively concentrated in the elderly driver class. I’m not certain of the total frequency of this but I recall the news reporting these occurring every few months and they often seem to kill three or more.

    However I can say that the proposed restrictions would be unlikely to solve the problem in Japan – and indeed that is why Japan is still mulling what to do. The problem is that there are three radically different driving scenarios and only one is really dangerous.

    Scenario 1 is rural byroads, typically being driven on by the elderly inhabitants of the houses along them as they drive to the shops or run other similar local errands. These roads are nearly always empty, usually winding, and the chances of an accident affecting another person are low (monkeys, pigs and the like are the most likely victims). Also if the elderly person is not allowed to drive they will need to rely on someone else to pick them up/do their shopping etc. and, just as in rural Britain, that would require a taxilike service because public transport is simply not feasible. The general opinion is that the current regular license renewal checks work well enough.

    Scenario 2 is highways and major roads. The elderly generally act as extremely annoying blockages on these roads because it is often impossible to pass them and they often don’t drive fast. The number of accidents on these is very very low so they aren’t a problem either beyond frustration. The general opinion is that the current regular license checks work well enough.

    Scenario 3 is urban streets and car parks. This is where we get to the problem. These are the places where there are often lots of pedestrians and lots of other things that can confuse/distract an elderly driver so that they don’t see the pedestrian/cyclist/edge of the road… until too late. But again it tends to be very localized as to location (and time of day) and other places just a short distance away are totally safe. It would be good to ban dangerous drivers from these places, but it is unclear how you do that. Particularly since a) the urban elderly live right there so you’d be banning them from driving to/from home and 2) the rural elderly are often headed to these places to do their shopping etc. Possibly banning them at specific times of the day might work (the morning/evening commute to work/school) but how do you enforce something like that?

    Plus I am well aware that most Japanese elderly drivers are responsible sorts who self police to avoid “dangerous times/places” and drive cautiously anyway so it’s only a tiny minority who are the potential dangers. Japan is actually surprisingly good at not pushing obtrusive regulation and treating the public as grownups who can make their own decisions sensibly so I imagine it will be a while before anything changes.

    In a decade the answer will be self-driving vehicles, but that doesn’t solve the problem for now, and even the proliferation of safety assisting cars doesn’t help because these aids are only in new cars and elderly pensioners tend not to have new cars.

  • Peter MacFarlane

    “what other groups might the government decide need to be tracked?”

    Everyone, of course.

    What the hell else do you think their plan is?

  • itellyounothing

    Whilst I see the upsides, right now we have far too much government already. If they bugger off s bit, we can talk about more bloody laws…