97-year-old Prince Phillip dominated the news when he overturned his car close to the Sandringham estate last week. The Prince walked away unscathed but two people in the other vehicle were injured.
The incident has sparked a global debate about whether, or when, elderly drivers should be forced to surrender their keys.
There is currently no legislation prohibiting the elderly from driving in South Africa. Some European countries require that drivers over the age of 70 prove their fitness every three years.
"There’s no evidence showing that elderly drivers are any more of a hazard on our roads than anyone else," says Jeff Osborne of Gumtree Automotive. "Stripping someone of their independence and mobility due an arbitrary age limit is extremely unfair. In fact, research has shown that elderly drivers are less likely to speed or take risks on the road."
He acknowledges that statistically elderly drivers are more likely to be involved in fatal accidents but that is due to increased frailty rather than decreased ability.
Osborne believes that all drivers, no matter their age, should know their own limitations. "It's our responsibility as drivers to make sure that there is nothing impairing our ability to drive safely – especially deteriorating eyesight, hearing or night vision.”
Osborne says that it may be necessary to give up driving if you experience the following:
- Confusion while driving
- Feeling startled or afraid while driving, e.g. being uncomfortable with speed of other cars on the road
- Passengers express concern or fear when traveling with driver
- Diagnosis of an illness which may impair cognitive skills, e.g. Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimers or dementia
- Slower reflexes and reaction times (e.g. other cars or pedestrians often catch you by surprise)
- Vision or hearing problems
- More than one minor accident in a short period of time, e.g. fender bender or parking lot scrapes.
"Ultimately it's up to the individual driver to call it a day but family members should speak to their parents or grandparents if they’re concerned about their driving, and offer alternatives (lifts, taxi services or shuttles) that will allow their loved ones to maintain their independence. Have the conversation early and make sure there is a plan B in place," advises Osborne.