New approach to checking elderly drivers

AN EXPLOSION in the number of elderly drivers on Queensland roads - including 20 centenarians - has sparked calls for an overhaul of how their licence renewals are assessed.

It has been revealed a staggering 206 per cent increase in the number of licensed drivers aged 90 and older in the past decade, including a 30 per cent jump in the past two years.

There are 232,210 Queenslanders aged 75 or older with a drivers licence - including 101 learners and 71 on provisional or probationary licences - up about 65 per cent from 2009.

The number of lead-footed motorists aged 75 and over has also spiked about 34 per cent in the past two years, doubling a 17 per cent rise in the overall number of speeding fines.

There has been a 65 per cent increase in the number of Queensland drivers over the age of 74 since 2009.
There has been a 65 per cent increase in the number of Queensland drivers over the age of 74 since 2009.

Geriatrician and former president of the Royal Australiasian College of Physicians, Catherine Yelland, called for a review of how elderly people's ability to drive was assessed, saying the current system put too much responsibility on doctors and did not require mandatory reporting of patients deemed unfit to be on the road.

She said the best way to know if someone was fit to drive was to give them a driving test.

"What it flags to 75-year-olds is that it's not automatic to retain the right to drive, some are really very assertive with the GPs and I think it's a very difficult position for a doctor to be in to take away someone's right to drive," she said.

"In terms of older drivers … they have an increased rate of various conditions including dementia and it's really hard to assess whether someone's safe to drive when they don't have one specific medical condition but they have quite a number of issues which may add up to increased risks, and doctors are trying to judge that sitting in their office."

RACQ spokesman Paul Turner said mandatory driving tests for drivers older than 74 would be too costly but warned the current situation, where motorists were able to "doctor hop" to get medical clearance, needed to change.

"We all have a responsibility, both individually as older drivers and as the families of older drivers, to ensure people aren't putting themselves and others at risk," he said.

"Doctors don't assess driving safety, but a doctor's role is to assess our ability to operate the heavy machinery that is our car. There is no one better to assess the physical capability of a person than a doctor."

Transport Minister Mark Bailey said the State Government had no plans to introduce mandatory driving tests for elderly drivers.

Transport Minister Mark Bailey said the government would not introduce mandatory driving tests for elderly drivers. Picture: Jerad Williams
Transport Minister Mark Bailey said the government would not introduce mandatory driving tests for elderly drivers. Picture: Jerad Williams

"Many older drivers have decades of driving experience and are far less likely to speed or be involved in crashes involving death or severe injury than younger drivers in terms of Queensland's road crash statistics," he said.

He said licence holders aged 75 or older had to carry a current medical certificate whenever they got behind the wheel.

Dr Mark King from QUT's CARRS-Q road safety research centre said evidence showed mandatory driving tests did not have any benefit, but the government should be planning ahead for the growing number of elderly drivers on the road.

He said road standards, including those for signage and lighting. did not take into account ageing.

"Older people are more likely to have crashes in which if they're at fault it's because they fail to see something or make a mistake," he said.

"Whereas younger people are more likely to be involved in crashes because they do something that's risky."

Samford retiree Byron Miers, 77, who used to run a heavy hauling business and got his licence when he was 17, said he had not had a crash for as long as he could remember.

77-year-old Byron Miers drives a Toyota Land Cruiser and hits the road almost every day. Picture: Tara Croser.
77-year-old Byron Miers drives a Toyota Land Cruiser and hits the road almost every day. Picture: Tara Croser.

Mr Miers drives almost everyday and recently made a long drive to Melbourne and back.

He said he would not support mandatory driving tests for seniors, but raised concerns with how doctors administer the final approval.

"As far as the medical tests go, I probably think you should go to a different doctor each year," he said, pointing to the friendly relationship between doctors and their patients.

"I think if you went to a different doctor each time, that'd be one thing towards trying to keep everything in order."