A few years ago I complained to the BBC about a documentary, Taking the Keys Away, which claimed pensioners had more accidents than other drivers. They don’t (see below) and, after a lot of heel dragging, an apology was made, with the promise that the programme would not be shown again.
The most alarming aspect of this incident was how such a serious mistake could have made its way unchecked into a documentary that had been months in the planning and making. There must have been scores of opportunities to correct it but none were taken. Why would that be?
I wondered this again at the weekend as first the Daily Mail and then the Sun ran stories about the ‘dangers’ of older drivers (ironically, both appeared to be in response to tonight’s ITV programme ’100 year old drivers: Rebooted’, a sequel to an earlier programme that presented a very positive view of older drivers). The Daily Mail asked ‘Should everyone over 70 be banned from driving?’ before stating that ‘more and more families are asking if elderly motorists are a ticking time bomb’.
The Sun followed it up on Monday with a feature in which four pensioners sat a mock driving test. The paper claimed ‘The results will shock you’. Well no, they won’t, not if you were already expecting a story that neatly fitted into a ‘pensioners are dangers on the roads’ narrative.
Clearly, no one should be on the road who is not safe to drive. And, as we mention this our Difficult Conversations report, deciding if someone needs to stop driving can be very difficult for older people and their families.
Yet, in the main, older people do stop if it becomes difficult to drive safely – in fact many give up before that point. They are safer on road than 18-24 year olds and, as a comprehensive review of the subject by the RAC Foundation says: “Contrary to popular belief the majority of older drivers have good driving records. Up to age 80, most older drivers appear to perform as well as middle-aged motorists and after this age only a small minority of active older drivers, often travelling less than approximately 2000 miles per year, are at an elevated risk on a per mile basis.”
So there is simply no case for setting an arbitrary limit on when older people should stop driving, as some have argued.
Why then do we persist in reinforcing the stereotype that older drivers are unsafe? Perhaps it is simply because we have a dominant view of older age as a time of increasing decrepitude. Adopt this view and it ‘must’ be true that older people cannot drive safely.
Which is sad. Driving can be vital to retaining freedom and independence as we age. Providing we can do it safely, there is no reason we should not be out on the roads into our 90s and beyond.