How ageing can affect driving

Written by Sue Smethurst for Australian Seniors.

For many older Australian’s, a driver’s licence is an essential tool to remain independent and connected to family, friends, and community. But the physical and mental changes that come with ageing – including reaction times, vision, and hearing – can affect how we drive. Find out the applicable seniors driving licence rules in your state or territory.

These changes can create risks not only for older drivers, but for other road users, too. While road fatalities in Australia have decreased recently by an average of 3% a year, the National Road Safety Strategy reports that fatalities for older road users have in fact increased by up to 2.3% a year. And adding to the risk, many seniors are driving cars with inferior safety technology.

How do you approach a loved one?

So, what can you do if a friend or loved one is showing signs that they are no longer safe on the road? The simple answer is, speak up. “You have a moral obligation to say something because the consequences of not speaking up can be dire,” says Russell White, CEO of the Australian Road Safety Foundation. “It can be difficult, because it signals a change in the way your friend or loved one lives their life, but it’s a conversation that must be had. The most important thing is to make sure the person is part of that discussion.”

Russell suggests the first step is to contact your state transport department to check the rules for older drivers. These can vary widely from state to state, for example, in Western Australia, once drivers reach 80, they must undergo an annual medical assessment to retain their licence, whereas Victoria has no age test.

States and Territories differ

Each state body also provides information about what to do if you are worried about someone’s driving, so find out the applicable seniors driving licence rules in your state or territory.

Victoria’s Transport Accident Commission also has an excellent drive-safe checklist for self-assessment (go to and search ‘older people’). The next stop is a visit to a GP.

“A GP can assess if the person is medically fit to drive, and they’re also a trusted third voice,” Russell says. “Often an assessment or advice from a third person carries more weight, especially if your loved one is resisting change. It’s important to be firm about the need for safety, but also offer other options, such as a driver skill refresher that can boost skills and assess how a driver is going.”

While an individual has no power to revoke the licence of another, most states offer anonymous reporting of unsafe drivers, which the authority is obliged to follow up on. You will need to give your details when filing the report – however, these will remain confidential.

A report to the relevant state licensing body can trigger interventions such as a medical review, which is not necessarily about taking a licence away. It may mean that conditions are put on the licence, such as the requirement to wear glasses, or daytime driving only. State authorities can only suspend or cancel a driver’s licence if someone is assessed as medically unfit to drive.

“This can be a really difficult time for the driver and their loved ones,” says Russell. “But the consequences of letting them go without intervention can be catastrophic. It’s far better to speak up and be safe rather than sorry.”

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