I parked the car, nonchalantly locking it with the keyfob, as I do every evening when I return from work.
It was a blustery, rainy late afternoon, and my journey home a relative nightmare. All of the major routes west of Heathrow Airport were in chaos. It seems that the average Brit is breathtakingly incompetent in wet conditions, despite bemoaning that its always raining here.
Either driving lunatically fast, or crawling along far too slowly, the result is multiple accidents, and long holdups. The delays were only made marginally tolerable by listening to the radio.
I decided that the solution to my grumpy mood was to pull my bicycle out of the. garage, and cycle the mile and a half to my alternate refuge, the Passfield Club.
It was only five past five when I arrived, and the place was almost deserted.
I ordered a pint of Fossil Fuel, and went at sat at a table at the far end of the room.
I was thinking about driving. Despite my journey, I knew that I was fortunate to be in a position to drive.
I have held a full licence since February 1977, almost 43 years. The car and motorcycle have become an intrinsic part of my life, and as a relatively fit man, I rarely think of the time when I too will have to hang up my car keys for the final time.
Before that time, I may have to downgrade my vehicle from the small SUV that I drive to a smaller vehicle. Maybe electric? Who knows.
I recall hearing somewhere that many older people bought an automatic car after maybe decades of driving a manual gearbox car, and subsequently had an accident as a result of confusion over the foot pedals and their location.
Also, that older drivers were as dangerous as the young due to their worsening driving abilities.
I wondered if this really was an issue, so I decided to do some research, and here is what I discovered.
According to AXA Insurance’s Technical Director David Williams drivers may face rises in insurance premiums as a result higher compensation claims being awarded following vehicle collisions and accidents.
The two age groups that will be affected most by this will be younger drivers in the 17-24 age group, and those over 75.
That surprised me a little.
Further digging revealed that there are an estimated 2.7 million drivers under the age of 25. Of that figure, 1.3 million are under 22. Combined, these groups make up about 7% of all UK drivers.
Drivers aged 17 -19 represent 1.5% of the driver population, yet they are involved in 9% of all fatal accidents in which they are the driver! Altogether, the under 25 age group are responsible for 85% of all serious injury accidents.
So where does this leave the older driver.
Bizarrely, a quick check of the stats instantly confirms that drivers in the 17-24 category have a very high accident rate comparatively speaking, with 1,912 collisions per billion vehicle miles (CPBVM) travelled. The accident rate then progressively reduces as age increases, reaching its lowest point between the ages of 66 – 70 dropping to just 367 accidents CPBVM.
So, I am, in theory, becoming statistically less likely to have an accident, due to my relentless march into decrepitude.
The accident rate rises slightly thereafter, but peaks to its highest for the 81 – 85 age group – at a massive 2,168 CPBVM.
So, in overall terms, from age 60 to 70, not a bad record.
Some of the reduction may well be inked to the fact that older drivers travel less than other adults, with about half the average mileage covered.
Demographically, the older population is forecast to expand and the number of people aged over 65 in the EU is predicted to double between 2010 and 2050.
Now a quick look at the science.
Aging brings with it several inescapable changes, including sensory, psychomotor and cognitive reductions – failing eyesight and hearing, slowing reactions, and slower and impaired judgement.
The higher reported fatality rate for older drivers is due to increasing frailty leading to death in a collision that would have potentially only injured a much younger driver.
Current UK legislation requires that driving licences are renewed when an individual reaches 70, and are valid for three years before requiring to be renewed again. This is a sensible approach.
When combined with requirements placed on medical practitioners to advise the UK Driver Vehicle Licencing Agency of any medical condition which would require the revocation of a driver’s licence.
But us oldies are fighting back!
It would appear from several studies that there is an almost compensatory mechanism at work, and older drivers are good at making sensible adjustments to their driving, and adapt their driving to reduce their exposure to higher risk driving conditions.
Many will stop driving at night, or will adjust the times of day or the days of week on which they travel.
Now – back to my original thoughts.
As an individual with no formalised forensic vehicle accident training, I accepted at face value the statement that elderly drivers should not drive cars with an automatic gearbox.
Surprisingly, my research seems to indicate the opposite, and a number of reports actually suggest that older drivers should use an automatic car.
In fact, a Dutch study was conducted by the University of Groningen using a professional driving simulator. The research placed young and older drivers in both an automatic transmission car and a car with a manual gearbox. The subjects were then required to drive several routes, including rural roads, rural roads with random varied intersections and finally a route that necessitated joining a busy motorway, overtaking vehicles and then exiting safely at a junction.
The results were interesting, in that the older drivers performed better in an automatic gearbox car than a manual.
This is possibly because the time lag induced by the age-diminished psycho-motor skills to both brake and shift down the gearbox simultaneously impaired driver performance. This was discussed as far back as 2002, where research suggested that older drivers should, in fact switch to driving an automatic car.
Interestingly, even the younger drivers in the sample also performed better when driving an automatic.
I accept that there needs to be a safe transition period, so maybe when drivers get to 65, when they are statistically at their safest, they should change to an automatic car, so that they have a few years to adapt to the differences, so that they may benefit from the additional levels of safety that a car with an automatic gearbox provides.
So, in six years, I will get my electric car, which will not only be cleaner in terms of emissions, but may even help me to stay alive a bit longer!
Mark Charlwood© January 2020
 Warshawsky-Livine & Shinar (2002)