As we get older, it’s not unusual for our driving capabilities to change. However, by minimising risk and practising safe driving, many of us can go on to drive competently and safely well into our senior years. And, according to recent statistics, many older people are doing just that: at the end of March this year, there were 4.3 million over 70s with driving licences, and over a million of these drivers were over the age of 80.
Everybody ages differently – someone aged 75 could be mentally and physically fitter than someone aged 55 – and, as a result, there is no definitive cut-off age where you have to hand back your licence. At 70, you are legally obliged to renew your driving licence (and then every three years after that), but this certainly doesn’t mean you have to stop driving; you simply need to reapply to check that you are still proficient.
You may have driven all your life, so will undoubtedly take pride in your safety record. Yet, as you get older, it is important to recognise that your driving ability is likely to change. Driving assessments, or refresher courses, can give you peace of mind that you are still capable behind the wheel.
It may be, however, that you have never learned to drive. A 2013 survey from the Department of Transport reported that 16% of over 50s do not possess a driving licence. It is never too late to learn, though, and having a licence under your belt could boost your self-esteem and give you a new-found sense of freedom. Some older people are even taking to motorbikes in order to be more independent; last year, around 3,000 over-50s passed their motorcycle test, nearly half of whom were women.
In fact, independence is one of the cherished benefits of being a senior driver. Driving allows for easy mobility, reducing the need to rely on friends or family and public transport. This, in turn, instils a feeling of self-worth and equality.
No-one understands this more than 87-year-old Margaret Green, who relies on her car for numerous reasons:
“Even when my car goes in for a service for the day, I feel lost without it – so if someone said I couldn’t drive anymore I would be completely devastated. I’ve always loved driving from a young age.
I don’t go far – perhaps a 25-mile radius – but it allows me to get into town. Catching a bus wouldn’t be an option, as it would require a ten-minute walk uphill to get to the bus stop, and the buses only come once an hour where I live.
Driving also gives me the ability to go places on a whim without relying on other people. Sometimes I can get a bit fed up living on my own, so on the spur of the moment I can decide to drive down to my local supermarket and just be around people. It’s also good for my social life as it means I can go and visit friends who live in the area for a coffee.
I’ve worked out the best routes and know them like the back of my hand. I always plan routes to avoid busy roundabouts where possible to try and make life a bit easier. For me, driving is my lifeline.”
Getting older by no means equals the total loss of driving ability. There are several things you can do to help you continue driving safely, including modifying your car and the way you drive, or courses designed specifically for older people who want to learn how to drive. After all, for many, driving is part of life – and the freedom and independence that comes with it is priceless.