Driving safely in old age

Keep on the Road – Driving Safely in old age

Driving safely in old age is one of those very tricky subjects.  Should they or shouldn’t they?  When shouldn’t they and how do you know?   This is a short guide covering all aspects of this subject.  It covers why and when someone should give up driving, where to find good advice on car adaptations and how to have the conversations with your parents/relatives about whether or not they should continue driving.  In addition, you might like to also read our blog on one person’s experience of their Mum stopping driving.

The Law – what older drivers need to know

There’s no legal age when someone should stop driving, but after the age of 70, a driving licence must be renewed every three years.  The DVLA must be told about any medical conditions that may affect the ability to drive safely, which could be previous health conditions that have worsened or new ones.  This is because if there is an accident where health may have been a contributing factor,  the driver could be prosecuted.  Also, insurance may not provide cover.

The DVLA will send a D46P application form 3 months before a 70th birthday (In Northern Ireland this is a DL1R application form).  In order to complete the form, the driver will need to confirm that they can meet the eyesight standards for driving (see below);  the code 01 will be added to the back of the photocard licence if the driver wears glasses.

The Law on elderly eyesight and driving safely

It’s illegal to drive if you can’t read a number plate from a distance of 20.5 metres.  If you have cataracts but still meet the eyesight standard for driving,  you should avoid driving at night or into very bright sunlight.

Declaring Health Conditions

Prescription medication at any age can impact driving ability, so of course, medical advice should be taken with any new prescription your parents/relatives might be given.

The DVLA (DLA in NI) must be told about any medical condition or disability that could affect the ability to drive safely.   This also applies if the condition has worsened since the licence was issued.  It’s a legal obligation as already stated to declare certain conditions, which include:

  • Dementia
  • Diabetes (if insulin-treated)
  • Epilepsy
  • Parkinson’s
  • Any chronic neurological condition, such as MS
  • Any condition that affects both eyes, or total loss of sight in one eye

Declarations may also need to be made after a TIA or a stroke or with a cancer diagnosis.

The GP will have a full list of conditions that require the driver to contact the DVLA.  Or check the following websites: www.gov.uk health conditions and driving or read the DVLA’s D100 Driving Licences booklet.

Once the DVLA/DVA have been informed they may either make a decision based on the information provided or contact the GP/consultant (with permission) or arrange for a local Doctor or specialist to carry out an examination;  or ask the driver to take a driving assessment/appraisal or eyesight check.

It is important to stress that telling the DVLA/DVA about a medical condition may not force someone to stop driving or mean they have their licence taken away.  They may need to renew their licence annually instead or have to adapt their car.

Surrendering a driving licence

If the GP advises your parent not to drive, they can voluntarily surrender their driving licence.  This does not need to be permanent, so your parent could return to driving when they have recovered from their medical condition.  It is worth discussing this with the GP.

Driving Assessments

If your parent has developed a medical condition they may need to have their driving ability assessed.   Or perhaps they (or you) have decided that it would be a beneficial exercise.  The DVLA can refer (and pay) to the local branch of the Forum of Mobility Centres.  Not only can they assess the driving ability, but can recommend adaptations for individual circumstances.

The Mobility Centre will carry out “Fitness to Drive Assessments” which includes all aspects of driving including medical fitness, vision, awareness, reactions and decision making as well as the physical ability to operate controls.

Car Adaptations

There is a range of adaptations that can be made to a car to make it safe and comfortable to drive.  The Mobility Centre, or  RICA (http://www.rica.org.uk/content/motoring) or Motability (www.motability.co.uk)  to find out more information.

If your parent is receiving the higher rate of the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA), the enhanced mobility component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or a War Pensioners Mobility supplement, they may be eligible to lease a car at an affordable price through the Motability Scheme, run by Motability.

Blue Badge Scheme

This scheme gives the driver exemptions from some parking restrictions and access to designated parking spaces.  It is a real bonus for those with mobility issues as generally Blue Badge holders can park free of charge at on-street parking meters and in Pay and Display bays and on single or double yellow lines for up to 3 hours, except where there is a ban on loading and unloading.

The scheme operates differently both in local authorities in England, but also differently in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.   It is well worth contacting the local council to find out more information and to apply for a Blue Badge for your parent/relative.

Giving Up Driving for Safety

No-one wants to give up driving themselves or force anyone else to do so either.  It is such a loss of independence and is such a sign apparently of frailty.  Suggesting one or other of your parents might consider giving up driving is a hard conversation to be had and there are no easy solutions or short cuts.   Our thoughts on this subject are as follows:

No one is going to voluntarily give up driving if they still think they are able enough to continue!

Many people go on driving safely for many years even with what might seem quite serious diagnoses (dementia for example) – so be careful that you’re suggesting something that is indeed necessary, rather than because you think it would be best;

If you’re really concerned about the safety of your parents and other drivers, then you could get in touch with the GP to help;

Or you could take the battery out of the car;  or remove the car keys;  perhaps suggest selling the car and using the money for a holiday or something your parents would really like;

You could write to the DVLA and ask them to request a medical assessment for your parent – but that seems a very harsh way to deal with the situation

As part of this conversation, bear in mind what life will be like without a car, and try and make arrangements to minimise the disruption;  this is unlikely to be easy, but there are ways – Dial a ride, local taxi services, you and friends/family, and not forgetting good old public transport.

You might like to read our blog on driving in old age.  And, if you’re still concerned,  this is a great article that should boost your confidence about your parents and their driving.  Good luck!  http://www.ageuk.org.uk/latest-news/archive/age-is-no-obstacle-to-driving-confidence/

Do you have experience of persuading an elderly person to give up driving? Do you have any tips or would you like to ask for some? Join the conversation in Age Space Forum.