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February 02 Issue


Claire Littler wants old people off the road
'Not only is it the lack of knowledge that concerns me about the older generation of driver but their ability to see and to react to a situation.'

Recently my boyfriend had to appear in a small claims court after he was involved in a two-vehicle collision at a roundabout. The man he was drawing pistols at dawn with was a 75-year-old driver. The case was so much in my boyfriends favour that his solicitor advised him to save some money on representational fees, advising the only person who would be needing a solicitor was the elderly gentleman. He was right. Fancy that winning the case and not being ripped off by a solicitor, all in one day.

The case never reached the actual court room, it was settled in the centre of reception when the elderly gentleman’s solicitor decided he would be fighting a no win case and it was best to admit responsibility there and then. His solicitor then astoundingly had to inform the gent of the Highway Code, advising him that when turning right at a roundabout he should have actually been in the right hand lane and as he hadn’t followed this rule he was the guilty party.

Stories like this make me realise how vulnerable myself and other drivers are when we are out on the road. When someone is not aware of the basic Highway Code accidents are sure to happen. Luckily no one was hurt this time but it still astonishes me that every time I turn on the television I keep hearing the world discriminate against young drivers. I am constantly introduced to yet another insurance company offering the more mature generation cheaper car insurance. Time after time it is these companies that drum into society that young drivers are the reason so many car owners have to pay such high premiums. I am by no means disputing that fact that a section of the young drivers on the road are responsible for accidents but don’t be mistaken into thinking they are the only dangers on the road.

Learner drivers of today have to undertake the most complex driving test there has ever been if they want the privilege of attempting life on the open road. Not only is it much easier to fail the actual practical test but now before people even get to this stage they have to pass a theory test. I believe that if the elderly gent was made to take a driving test today he would undoubtedly fail. I strongly believe he would not even have the opportunity to sit behind a wheel from miserably failing the theory test.

Unfortunately though he is behind a wheel and he is not alone. There are thousands of people out there that are in the same situation. They took their test, without a theory section years ago. Now they have forgotten the rules, how to apply them and are unaware of any new procedures such as mini roundabouts and bus lanes.

Not only is it the lack of knowledge that concerns me about the older generation of driver but their ability to see and to react to a situation. It has been scientifically proven that eyesight and reaction times deteriorate with age but apparently this doesn’t matter, well at least until you are 70.
As the law stands today a person of 17 years old can pass their driving test and are free to drive without having one single eye test, health check or Highway code test until the age of 70. However, even when they reach this age they are only required to have an eye test. There is no check up required to test a person’s reaction speed, nor their health, or their Highway Code knowledge, they don’t even have to retake their driving test. They could be the most dangerous drivers on the road but so long as they can read the number plate on the car in front they are apparently more than adequate drivers. It’s scary to know our lives are in the hands of these people when we venture on to the road. It’s time that people understand that young drivers are not the only potential risk, after all, what’s the point of experience if you’re not fast enough to use it?

© Claire Littler April 2002

(Ed responds; Statistically more than fifty percent of serious road accidents are caused by young drivers between the age of 18 and 25. They may know the theory but when loaded with alchohol or drugs they, like the older drivers forget them. Statistically, older drivers (up to the age of 65 drive more slowly, have less accidents and virtually no high-speed lethal accidents. The accidents they do have are generally of the type described above, a lapse of memory and driving at slow speeds.

The above article is intolerant and unthinking. If you could guarantee that young drivers would obey the laws, not speed, or drink or whatever then their statistics would reflect that. They don't and every day and especially at every weekend hundreds die on UK roads from stupid careless driving. And that is without mentioning driving whilst holding a mobile phone...)

Response from readers: 28 .03

From email:

Dear Editor,
I think that your comments about Claire Littler's article were extremely harsh.
She has made an important point, highlighting that it is not only young people who can be bad drivers.Littler is correct in asserting that we hear an awful lot about the inadequacies and recklessness of the younger driver and very rarely about those of the mature driver. Like it or not Ed, this is discrimination! A driver should be rated according to their own individual abilities, not on the basis of their biological age or for that matter on their level of competency on one day in their lives. Insurance companies of course are the greatest advocates of this approach, calculating risk on the basis of predetermined socio-demographic groups. Discrimination on the basis of age, gender, where you live..
It concerns me how we accept this so blithely. If it was a product of a developing country the media would be hot on their tails to condemn the country for institutionalised racism! Whether we are good or bad drivers depends on us as individuals and the many complicated factors which make us who we are and external factors which effect our abilities at different points in our lives. Although it would be a major hassle, (what changes isn't ) it would be much fairer, and altogether safer if all drivers had an occasional review of their driving skills and knowledge. Indeed it could a helpful health care prompt to some drivers who could do with a physical overhaul, or just some new specs .
Sophie J Richmond

Ed Responds:
Well OK, lets do random blood and dope tests for young drivers - we only test for alchohol at the moment so it would be fair I think to test for recreational drugs too. Then lets see the stats. I think you will find that the insurance companies will penalise young drivers even more from what they discover.

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