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Experience counts in the drive for safer roads

29 November 2012

Older drivers are as safe as drivers from all other age groups, according to research published by the IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists). Contrary to widespread belief, the study shows they have better attitudes to safety, deal with hazards better than young drivers and use experience to increase their safety margins on the road.

The report reveals that drivers over 75 react just as quickly as other age groups when a vehicle emerges from a side road or if the car in front brakes suddenly on a rural road.

Official statistics show that people over 70 make up nine per cent of drivers but six per of driver casualties.  This practical study found that where older drivers had slower reaction times, they used their experience on the road to compensate:

  • They drive at slower speeds on all occasions
  • They keep a bigger following distance than drivers from other age groups.

Whilst the study found little difference in driving performance across the ages it did highlight two surprising areas of concern:

  • Compared with other age groups, the eldest group appeared to stop short of the stop line at junctions and not look as often as others before pulling out.
  • Older drivers failed to look in their rear view mirror as much as other age groups on the motorway.

The report found that older drivers were likely to have less flexibility in neck movement and poorer vision standards but this did not translate into differences in driving performance.  Neck flexibility varied widely, with some older drivers as flexible as some in the youngest group

The IAM believes it is important these findings are used in on-road and online assessments to ensure that older drivers understand the risks they face and what they can do to improve their driving in key areas.

In the light of this new report the IAM is calling for:

  • A government action plan for older drivers
  • More car manufacturers considering older drivers in vehicle design
  • Greater publicity to encourage health professionals to discuss driving
  • Better information for older drivers and their families
  • Online self-assessment tools for older drivers
  • Wider availability of voluntary on-road driving assessments
  • Better partnership working at a local level

TRL principal human factors researcher Nick Reed said: “This study for IAM using TRL’s DigiCar simulator revealed that in many of the driving scenarios tested, older drivers were typically as safe as their younger counterparts. It was notable that performance was more varied across the older participants; seemingly reflecting differences in the ageing process and highlighting how difficult it is to make judgements about driving ability based solely on age. It was pleasing to identify specific areas of concern for older drivers and perhaps to correct some common misconceptions about their driving ability.”

The Report is available here.

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