According to the Transport Accident Commission (TAC), drivers aged 75 or over have a higher risk of dying in a car accident or crash than those in any other age group.
There are specific physical and mental changes that can affect some elderly drivers’ ability to drive. These changes are a natural effect of ageing and affect a person’s visual, motor, and cognitive abilities. Therefore, such changes can have a significant impact on how well they perform and their level of driving skills while on the road.
Many elderly or senior drivers still have adequate driving skills and perform exceptionally well on the road, and the assessment is just a way to prove this and continue enjoying the freedom of driving as you please. However, whether you’re an exceptional driver or could use some driving expertise to get you back up to speed, we recommend booking driving lessons with experienced and friendly driving instructors.
In some situations, the physiological changes that come with ageing can lead to:
- Decreased visual acuity
- Oversensitivity to glare that can impair night driving
- Reduction in flexibility, muscle strength and balance
- Slower reaction times
- Slower processing speed
- Slower visual processing and perceptual skills
- Divided attention
- Reduced executive function
Another concern among elderly drivers is that those who use prescription drugs due to existing medical conditions may suffer from bouts of sleepiness or drowsiness. It’s always best to have a chat with your GP about how such prescriptions or medicine can affect your driving skills.
But while the elderly may have an increased risk of figuring in or causing a road accident, many older people are perfectly fit to drive. So, how does one know for certain whether an elderly person can keep on driving or has to stop?
The key: senior driver assessments.
The elderly and driving
Most older adults find driving their own automobile to be the most convenient mode of transportation. However, ageing can come with physical deterioration which, in turn, can contribute to driving impairment among the elderly, impairing their fitness to drive.
Safe driving entails the complex integration of visual, motor, and cognitive processes. You need to be able to multitask while on the road. Not only do you need to keep an eye out for traffic signals, road signs, pedestrians, crossing wildlife, potholes, etc., but you should also have the presence of mind to change lanes, merge into traffic, signal other drivers, and emergency brake when required.
The need to be alert for all such factors and eventualities can be taxing on older drivers who may already suffer from mild to moderate visual, motor, and cognitive deficits. To avoid risking their lives and that of others, most older drivers regulate their own behaviour to reduce stress and compensate for their physiological deficits by:
- Opting to drive under ideal conditions, i.e., good weather and non-rush hours
- Avoiding twilight or night-time driving
- Limiting trips to short-distance drives
- Driving more slowly
- Stopping and parking when they feel drowsy
While this only occurs in particular cases, it’s important to reflect on your driving capabilities and actively look to improve and become more confident on Perth roads where possible.
Functional assessments for seniors and elderly drivers
Practical driving assessments for the elderly or senior drivers involve the evaluation of each person’s visual, motor, and cognitive abilities – all areas that need to function adequately for safe driving.
These assessments can be conducted by general healthcare professionals, although consultation with specialists, such as neuropsychologists, ophthalmologists, physical therapists, etc., may be necessary in some cases.
Elderly drivers may also undergo written and computerised aptitude tests that evaluate attentiveness and judgement and are used as indicators of driving fitness. Written tests are mostly situational, while computerised tests are designed to assess a driver’s reaction and decision-making speed and consistency.
The advent of VR technology has also paved the way for the use of virtual driving simulation exercises for improving the mobility of senior drivers. These include clinical exercises and simple driving instruction for those who have yet to earn their driving licence, as well as more advanced driving instruction for driving neophytes and seasoned senior drivers.
Where certain deficits are identified, driving-related interventions may need to be introduced. These interventions include driving rehabilitation, assisted driving, driving restriction or cessation (or a combination of this), and using assistive devices.
Driving licence renewal for seniors in WA
In Western Australia, the moment a person turns 80, they are issued a Medical Assessment Certificate – Senior driver’s licence renewal declaration or Form M108A. This form is sent via post around 12 weeks prior to the expiration of the person’s driver’s licence.
Seniors who wish to renew their licence to drive are required to undergo medical assessments and, with the assistance of their healthcare provider, complete and submit all forms required with the application for renewal.
The Department of Transportation then reviews the recommendations of the concerned medical professional and considers the senior driver’s driving history and medical information. If the applicant satisfies all the prerequisites of safe driving, they are issued a new licence card or renewal notice.
However, those who do not meet the standards for safe driving may be required by the Department of Transportation to provide more information; else, no driver’s licence or renewal will be given.
Senior drivers aged 85+ who wish to renew their driver’s licence are also subject to the same process, except that they also need to book and undertake a practical driving assessment (PDA).
The importance of driving instruction
If your elderly parents are due to renew their driver’s licence in Western Australia by completing and passing a practical driving assessment – whether they belong to the 80-84 or 85+ age group. This is primarily to build self-confidence and put skills to the test with the assistance of advanced, professional driving instruction.
With the help of driving-related interventions, such as driving rehabilitation, your elderly parents can re-master and practise their driving skills in a safe and controlled environment.
And when this is combined with expert-led, hands-on driving in real traffic situations, older drivers will feel more ready and able to tackle whatever senior driving assessment they’ll need to undergo.
Annually for seniors, once you’ve turned 80. You will have to visit your doctor for a yearly medical assessment before renewing your driver’s license. This requires you to complete the Medical assessment certificate: Senior driver’s licence renewal declaration (Form M108A).
The Practical Driving Assessment for a car (C class) will put your skills and understanding of how a vehicle operates into practice. Senior drivers should be familiar with approaching: traffic lights; Give Way signs; Stop signs; right turns at intersections; and roundabouts.
The assessor will look at your driving skills including how well you operate and guide the motor vehicle (eg steering, turns, using signals). They also assess your ability to follow the road rules, interact with other road users and respond to hazards.
See the Department of Transport guide for more information on the PDA for seniors.
Senior drivers who are aged 85 years or more will have to pass a Practical Driving Assessment (PDA) in order for them to renew their licence – if they hold a higher class such as light rigid (LR class) or above.
It’s important to note that older drivers who hold a C class licence no longer need to take mandatory practical driving assessments unless recommended by a medical professional.