Two surveys reported in the press recently caught my attention. One was taken by Saga, surveying 10,000 people, and the other by a well-known insurance company involving 1,500 drivers.
The Saga survey concluded that half of those over 50 say they would be happy to take a test at the age of 70 to prove they were still competent. Seventy percent of those surveyed said that anyone involved in a serious accident, or who had accumulated a lot of penalty points, should be made to take a test. I guess the implication here was for older drivers, but it does say anyone! Especially in these days where any hint of discrimination gives everyone the vapours.
What does “a lot of penalty points” mean anyway? Surely you lose your licence when you get more than 12. Isn’t that the whole point? Well, it seems not. Looking up some published figures on this, I found the top 20 expert points collectors. Number 20 is a woman in Huddersfield who has 28 points. The numbers climb steadily to number 1, a man in London, who has 45 points. Apparently a court can decide not to impose a driving ban over 12 points where undue hardship will result. All very well, but 45 is just taking the mickey!
Going on age alone is hardly an effective approach. There are currently 4.6 million licence holders aged 70 and over. In ten years’ time that is likely to rise to 6.5 million. The report included a comment from a Saga director; “Drivers in their 70s tend to have fewer accidents per miles driven than drivers in their 20s. Older drivers tend to have low-speed accidents. They tend to hit stationary objects where younger drivers have accidents at higher speeds”.
So, if we are talking about making people take the test again, and we are not happy with age alone as a criterion, how about penalty points. If you draw a graph (don’t worry I haven’t included the graphs) of the number of licence holders with points in age groups from 17 to 100, it climbs to a peak at 43 and reduces to age 70 where it drops right away. If you then adjust that graph to take account of the number of licence holders in each age group it moves to the left. There is now a broad plateau from 20 to 40 and then a straight drop off with increasing age.
If we do a similar exercise with driver death rates, the graph is high from 17 to 20, it then declines to a minimum at age 60-69 and then rises slightly for 80 plus. If that graph is adjusted to account for average miles driven in each age group it is even higher on the left (17 to 20) dropping to a broad minimum between 30 and 69 with a slightly sharper rise for 80 plus than before. People calling for further testing of older drivers need to point to the statistics that suggest it is necessary rather that the “common sense” often quoted or the rare case of an elderly driver going the wrong way down the motorway which catches press attention.
The second survey I mentioned tested people on their knowledge of road signs. One in three couldn’t identify the national speed limit for cars or the sign for one-way traffic. Ninety percent had no idea of the meaning of double yellow lines! Of the 1,500 drivers interviewed, only 2 answered all 15 questions correctly. The average score was eight. Despite this, 80% claimed to be a safe driver. Department of transport figures show that road deaths numbered 1780 in the 12 months to September last year. An increase of 49 on the previous year. A spokesman for the insurance company concerned said “Most of us think of ourselves as safe drivers and we try to follow the rules of the road but as our study shows we might not always know what those rules are.” Let’s keep up the good work folks.