London | Contrary to popular belief, older drivers are not more dangerous behind the wheel than younger motorists, according to a new UK study.
Researchers said that older drivers are not actually dangerous and that testing them will not make the roads any safer.
According to Charles Musselwhite from Swansea University in the UK, as the population is ageing, older people are relatively safe compared to other age groups.
A review of countries with stricter tests for older drivers shows little difference in collision rates for older drivers, suggesting it makes little long term difference to driver behaviour, he said.
“My research suggests that while people think older people are dangerous on the road – they are not. People also think testing old people will make the roads safer – it won’t,” Musselwhite said.
The research also found that alternatives to driving must be improved to safeguard older people who are forced to give up driving, as this lifestyle change is associated with a huge deterioration in health and wellbeing, including depression, feelings of stress and isolation.
Giving up driving may also be linked to speeding up death, he said.
The pedestrian environment can be unsafe for older people as badly maintained pavements, or those poorly looked after in icy or slippery conditions can reduce the ability for older people to get out and about.
Also, road crossings are not designed with older people in mind as they do not allow enough time to cross.
Musselwhite looked at statistics that suggest that older people are more likely to be killed or seriously injured in road incidents.
Research into fragility and frailty could provide an explanation for these increases, as older people are more likely to be a casualty of their collision because of their susceptibility to injury.
He also challenges interpretations which suggest that older people are more likely to be at fault than younger drivers when turning right across traffic.
“My research suggests that older people don’t make these driving errors if they feel under no pressure from other drivers,” Musselwhite said.
“Real or imagined pressure makes older people make these errors and given time to think properly then errors are reduced.
“The solution to this and also any cognitive changes associated with ageing including changes in working memory, attention and cognitive overload is to drive slower and at certain times of day,” he said.
It is possible that technology such as driverless cars could have a role in helping to make a smoother transition to giving up driving, Musselwhite added.
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