You may have seen me recently on Good Morning Britain, debating with the irrepressible Johnny Ball about whether the over-70s should have to retake driving tests. I must pin my colours to the mast – I’m keen on repeat driving tests as we get older.
A few weeks ago I renewed my driving licence and when I received it I wondered what the DVLA was doing giving me a driving licence when they don’t know if I’m fit to drive? Whether I’m a danger to myself and others?
After all, when you’re driving a car you’re in charge of a lethal weapon.
Johnny Ball, who’s clearly an exceptional driver, decries the curtailment of driving freedom, be it a curfew or a restriction on journeys beyond a 30-mile radius from home, or a ban on night driving.
I’m not in favour of bans but I’m definitely in favour of tests to see if we’re competent in modern driving conditions, new road layouts and modern road signage. In fact I’d welcome a refresher course.
Every older driver should be asking themselves, do you do enough driving to be familiar and comfortable with all that? Are we up to it? The facts are, no matter how fit we think we are, everything is slowing down after 70.
Our level of alertness is less, our reflexes are slower, our judgment is defective in fast, changing conditions. Then there’s the ageing body, no longer as supple as it used to be, stiff in the shoulders and neck and less able to take in a wide perspective.
Our grip strength is waning as is the strength in our arms.
Our eyesight is changing too – our peripheral vision is contracting and our night vision diminishing.
Should we not, given all this, be prepared to see if we’re fit road users in today’s traffic, where speed of assessing situations and decision-making is critical?
When I hear people objecting vociferously to this kind of monitoring I find myself asking why.
Why are they so defensive, quoting restrictions on their personal freedom?
Driving over age 70 isn’t an unalienable right. Are the complaining men feeling sensitive because their masculine competence is being questioned?
That kind of arrogance has no place in a discussion of road safety. Only competence counts. I have the feeling even Stirling Moss would have agreed.
It’s not just a matter of age, either. The truth is we’re all degrading in a motoring sense.