Past Horsham mayor calls for stricter regulations for elderly drivers

Editorial: Elderly drivers

A PAST Horsham mayor has called for stricter licensing regulations for elderly drivers, including a practical driving exam for motorists aged 80.

Brian Hutchesson, who was mayor from 1971 to 1973, believes existing processes could be improved.

"I renewed my licence at the age of 82 on November 26," he said.

"Because I've got a heavy articulated and heavy coach licence, I only had to do a health check with my doctor."

VicRoads issues drivers over 75 a three-year licence, after which it needs to be reviewed.

But Mr Hutchesson said there should be a practical driving test at the age of 80.

"Just to make sure people keep up with it," he said. 

"And I wouldn't mind if I had to do a light refresher course every 12 months after 80."

He said most drivers over 75 were responsible road users.

"We hear how many elderly people have accidents, but we don't hear how many are driving safely," he said.

People 75 and older were over-represented in the state's serious injury and fatal crashes last year.

The Transport Accident Commission is researching how road trauma can be reduced among elderly drivers.

Three Wimmera drivers over 70 were in the state's provisional road toll last year: two in Northern Grampians Shire and a woman in Yarriambiack Shire.

But Northern Grampians Highway Patrol Sergeant Rod Davis said age was just one factor authorities would consider when working to reduce the road toll.

"Every road user needs to be aware of their fitness to be behind the wheel," he said.

Horsham Highway Patrol Sergeant Wayne Caddy asked relatives of people who believed their loved one's driving skills were becoming affected by age or medical conditions to call VicRoads.

"We've got no doubt that a lot of people don't recognise their ability to drive is diminishing, but their relatives will notice," he said.

He said police considered all recommendations for licences to be reviewed.

"We don't like doing it, but if it's going to make our roads safer, sometimes we have to," Sgt Caddy said. 

"We're well aware that in country Victoria it is very hard to get around without a licence."

RoadSafe Wimmera executive officer David Rule encouraged people to remember driving was a responsibility, not a right.

"We all have to ensure we are confident to handle our vehicles safely whenever we drive," he said.

He encouraged people to discuss their driving with their families or a health professional if they were concerned.

"There are also council community workers who can talk about alternatives to driving," Mr Rule said.

A stroke stopped Wimmera Mobility Group president Geoff Baker from driving almost 20 years ago.

His gopher is his main mode of transport, as is the case for more than 500 Wimmera residents.

“My wife is a good driver – she’s in her late 60s,” Mr Baker said.

Learning he would not be able to drive again felt like the end of part of his life.

“You’ve got to rely on people to get you from A to B, and that’s not always easy or convenient for people,” he said.

“Before then, I was never out of a vehicle – I had my own transport business so I was driving all the time, and I drove as a sales representative for 20 years.”

But he said it was a matter of mindset.

“You can’t do anything about it, and it’s not going to go away, so you’ve got to push yourself out of that mood of disappointment and move on,” he said.

VicRoads vehicle and road use policy director James Holgate said the state’s licensing policy for drivers aged 75 and over was based on fitness to drive, not age.

“VicRoads issues a three-year licence to drivers over 75 to encourage them to reassess their fitness regularly,” he said.

“Older drivers often self regulate their driving by restricting themselves to local driving and often demonstrate less risky behaviours than drivers of other ages.”

Mr Holgate said decisions to suspend or cancel a driver’s licence for medical reasons were investigated by VicRoads’ Medical Review Team.

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