Are your parents and grandparents too much of a risk on the roads?

How long should your parents still be driving? How can we reduce the accident risks presented by the elderly and how should we go about taking their keys from them?

We would like to discuss this by way of sharing an email directed at the Arrive Alive road safety website  – and a response received from Justice Project South Africa.

Question:

I was wondering if you could clear something up for me.

I know of someone who is driving when they really shouldnt be, they have been involved in three accidents that I know of, not sure if they were the cause. This person is 87 and suffers from Macular degenaration. I dont want to blow the whistle and take the brunt of the fall out, but at the same time its bothering me that this person is on the roads, putting other peoples lives in danger. What can I do without looking like the one who blew the whistle.

Any suggestions would be welcome.

Answer:

Let me start off by saying that I truly understand your concerns about this person being allowed to continue driving – especially in light of the macular degeneration element of your query. Whilst there are many senior citizens that are truly capable of driving safely, the sad fact of life is that there are more that are not.

As you know, an eye test is required for driving licence renewals and sadly, this is the only requirement that has to be met – apart from paying the renewal fee. The scary part of this is that in order to pass the test, all one needs is a 50% score – in other words one can be half blind and still have one’s licence renewed.

Macular degeneration can make it difficult or impossible to read or recognize faces, although enough peripheral vision remains to allow other activities of daily life. Compensation by the brain can actually make up for the loss or impairment of central vision and because of optometric devices such as spectacles that are designed to – at least – partially correct this, the tests conducted by testing centres can still be passed.

The problem still remains however that it has been your observation that the person in question is in fact not a safe driver, since you state he or she has been involved in three crashes that you are aware of.

But here is the really bad news. You will not be able to “blow the whistle” on this person due to the fact that current legislation is not interested in whether a person is still capable of driving safely or not. It allows only for the renewal of driving licenses every 5 years – with no age limitation on it at all. Driving licenses in South Africa are valid indefinitely – provided that they are renewed every 5 years and unless they are suspended or withdrawn for some other reason.

As difficult as it is going to be, I would say that the only approach worth pursuing would be to speak to the driver concerned and make them aware of the fact that their continued driving could result in the harm of someone else. I don’t envy anyone this task as I have had to do it before and it went down like a lead balloon. Old people can get quite obstreperous – especially when one talks of taking their independence away and treating them like children, but the sad fact is that someone has to do it when it comes to dangerous driving.

Failing that, the best that you can hope for at this stage is that he or she fails to meet the minimum requirement on their next eye test, which in terms of Regulation 102(1)(a)(i) and (ii) must meet the requirements (i) “according to the Snellen rating a minimum visual acuity, with or without refractive correction, of 6/1(20/40) for each eye, or where the visual acuity of one eye is less than 6/12 (20/40) or where one eye of the person concerned is blind, a minimum visual acuity for the other eye of 6/9 (20/30)” and (ii) “a minimum visual field of 70 degrees temporal, with or without refractive correction, in respect of each eye, or where the minimum visual field in respect of one eye is less than 70 degrees temporal, or where one eye is blind, a minimum total horizontal visual field of at least 115 degrees with or without refractive correction.”

We (JPSA) have been saying that South Africa needs to consider re-testing all drivers – not only aged ones – when they renew their driving licenses; due to the current generally very poor standard of driving in this country, but that has not been received with much enthusiasm at all. We can only hope that one day we will have someone or a group of people in the Department of Transport whose egos are a little less inflated and whose focus is on true road safety. We live in hope.

Best Regards,

Howard Dembovsky
National Chairman – Justice Project South Africa (NPC)

The Elderly Driver and Road Safety

On the Arrive Alive website we have made available information on the elderly and road safety. This deals not only with the unique risks presented by this category of driver, but also shares some ideas on how the keys should be taken from them.

We would like to urge you to also view – Road Safety and the Elderly

Car Insurance and the Elderly Driver

For more on the risks from an insurance side also view the following links:

More should be done to avoid elderly driver accidents

ar Insurance might become too expensive for the elderly to keep driving

Cancelling car insurance should be the very last resort for the elderly

Elderly women are higher risk drivers for car insurance

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