The Challenge Of Teaching Elderly Drivers

According to statistics older people who drive cars above the age of 80 have a higher risk factor per mile driven than any other age group. As we get older our reaction times grow longer and physical weakness makes controlling a vehicle all the more difficult. Older drivers tend to make short local journeys from time to time to carry out basic tasks like shopping or visiting friends. As they have little practise in longer journeys or in heavy or fast moving traffic they are increasingly ill equipped to deal with the modern driving environment. Owing to the majority of their journeys being on quieter roads over short distances older drivers are more risk to themselves than to other road users.

Owing to frail physical condition they are much less likely to survive even only a minor crash. The highest third party risk is to any passengers being carried in the vehicle at the time. The highest risk seems to be to younger passengers such as grandchildren.

Teaching older drivers can be one of the most inspiring and challenging things an instructor can do. Having taught people over the age of eighty I have found it to be a very rewarding experience. To meet such determined and friendly people can be a boost to the working day.

The statistics do match real life experience however. An elderly driver will handle the streets around their home reasonably well until something unexpected happens and then those slow reactions really begin to show. The overall attitude of elderly drivers is to blame the other person and then make up as many excuses as possible as to why the incident occurred. This must be handled diplomatically and respectfully as they do not like to feel condescended to by an instructor younger than themselves.

As the journey moves away from the home location the standard of drive deteriorates rapidly, showing that they are driving from memory. When the time comes to deal with new information vehicle control and road position become more haphazard and we really do begin to rely on luck to stay safe. Large multi lane roundabouts which require reading of signs and complex lane markings are well beyond the limits of the elderly driver. Add to that the high speed movement of other vehicles and the driver becomes overloaded and seeks to ignore their surroundings only looking at the section of road in front of the car. Elderly female drivers can become easily panicked which may require use of the dual controls to calm the situation down. The instructor must not hesitate to seize control of the vehicle to avoid an accident.

We must be compassionate when considering taking a licence from an elderly driver. When you take away a licence you take away everything that the licence allows then to do, cutting down their personal freedom and leaving them house bound in some cases. As they cannot provide for their basic needs without a vehicle they become reliant on outside service providers.

A form of graduated licence may be the answer with restrictions on the carrying of passengers and distance travelled from a home address. Instructors must do all they can to preserve the self sufficiency of older drivers whilst maintaining a high level of road safety.