SOME OF the UK’s oldest drivers are surrendering their driving licences in the name of safety, following the lead of Prince Philip after his car crash last year.
According to data published in The Times this morning, the number of older British motorists giving up their licences rose by 21%, double the increase of the year before. Experts have chalked this up to senior motorists following the Duke of Edinburgh’s lead, who surrendered his licence aged 97 after a collision with a Kia in January last year, near the Sandringham estate in Norfolk.
After pulling out onto the A149, Prince Philips’s Land Rover Freelander (a model since replaced by the Discovery Sport) collided with a Kia Carens. The duke’s car was overturned, and one of the women in the car with whom he collided suffered a broken wrist.
The duke wrote the lady, Emma Fairweather, a letter of apology, saying that he was “deeply sorry” and “very contrite”. He blamed a lack of visibility for the crash, saying that the sun was shining low over the main road. Fairweather disputed that it was a sunny day but said that she was “chuffed” to receive a personal apology from the Prince.
Three weeks later, Buckingham Palace announced that the Prince had surrendered his driving licence. This is likely to have been in order to avoid possible criminal charges over careless driving. He is still allowed to drive on private roads within royal estates.
The 21% increase represents 8,014 drivers over the age of 90 who surrendered their licences last year, compared with 6,612 in 2018, a rise of 9.7%. The figures, published under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) were obtained from the DVLA by Responsible Life.
The data for the UK’s oldest drivers show an even bigger number surrendering their licences: 230 drivers over the age of 97 voluntarily gave up their licences in 2019, an increase of 39.4% compared with the year before.
Joshua Harris, director of campaigns at Brake, the road safety charity, said: “We’re encouraged that the government has agreed to look into the potential safety issues around older drivers and these figures show that drivers themselves are increasingly acknowledging when they may no longer be fit to drive.
“Safety must always be the priority when it comes to our roads but the Government must also ensure that there are suitable transport alternatives for those no longer fit to drive.”
Ian McIntosh, CEO of Red Driving School, said: “a driving licence can be an invaluable source of independence and mobility, particularly for those over the age of 70. So rather than discouraging older people from holding a licence or implementing restrictions and mandatory retesting, we encourage voluntary assessments. Refresher lessons should be the norm, not the exception, for drivers of all ages.”
He continued: “rather than taking away the independence of older drivers, RED urges people to encourage their relatives and friends to undergo voluntary refresher courses to keep safety the number one priority on our roads.”
In December 2019, there were 119,521 people over the age of 90 who held a full driving licence, according to government data.
At present, the law requires people over the age of 70 to get their licences renewed every three years. Drivers have to make a declaration that their eyesight meets legal standards but there is no assessment involved.
These rules are under review, with the Department for Transport considering implementing compulsory eye tests for drivers over the age of 70 when they renew their licence. Two thirds of people over the age of 70 have a driving licence, as opposed to a third of drivers of the same age in the mid-1990s.
According to The Times, the Department for Transport said that age should not be a barrier to driving but “acknowledged that reaction times could decline, increasing the chances of an accident”.