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Older Road Users

There is  evidence to show the effects of ageing cause deterioration in the skills necessary for us to continue as safe road users.


  • Pedestrians age 60-69 are twice as likely to be killed on the roads as other adults on foot are
  • Pedestrians age 70-79 are 3 times more  likely to be killed
  • Pedestrians age 80 + males are 4 times more likely to be killed
  • Pedestrian's age 80+ females are 11 times more likely to be killed
  • Almost 95% of all older pedestrian casualties are in urban areas where houses and shops are located.
  • Whilst most remain active and independent in later years, older pedestrians become less aware of their limitations or what they can do to remedy these problems.


What can older road users do

Try putting into practice the principles of defensive walking:

  • Avoid rush hours and avoid going out when it is dark or in bad weather
  • Choose the safest time possible for your journey
  • Plan the journey and cut down the number of times you have to cross the road
  • Wear bright clothing so that you can easily be seen
  • For the safest place to cross, and preferably use a protected crossing, Pelican, Zebra, footbridge or subway
  • Cross where you have a good view of traffic. Cross with a group of people if you can
  • Carefully check the speed of approaching vehicles. If in doubt do not cross
  • Even if the speed limit is 30mph, cars may be going much faster
  • Check for vehicles which may turn unexpectedly towards you
  • Will a stationary car move off? Is it a one way street? Are any cars signalling or slowing down to turn in front of you?
  • Check that the driver is doing what you expect them to do
  • Is the car stopping at a pedestrian crossing?
  • Will a signalling car actually turn?
  • Check that the driver has seen you
  • Do parked cars make it hard for you to be seen? Try making eye contact with the driver. At night cross near a streetlight  and wear something reflective
  • Poor eyesight can cause the older road user to be involved in accidents. Road users need to see as well as be seen


Older drivers

Older people make up a large part of the UK population and also a significant part of our driving population. Figures from 2007showed that more than two million people in the UK aged 70+ had a current driving licence. This number was expected to more than double to four and a half million by 2015 

Research does not indicate that there is an age at which all drivers become unable to drive safely. People age differently and someone at 70 years of age may be fitter, more alert and active then someone aged 60 years or younger

However, as people get older it is only natural that their general health will begin to deteriorate. This may be a gradual process and any deterioration may not be apparent to the individual concerned.

What are the risks?

Statistics of road crashes of all severities show there is no age-related increase in total number of incidents for the over 60s.

  • Older drivers have far fewer crashes than younger drivers.
  • However, an elderly person’s risk of being killed or suffering a serious injury as a result of a road crash (as any type of road user) is between two and five times greater than that of a younger person because of their increased physical frailty.


What are the problems?

As people get older, it is inevitable that general health and fitness, eyesight, hearing, reaction time and physical mobility will begin to deteriorate. Older drivers may unknowingly experience physical and psychological health problems, which will vary widely from person to person.

Tests have shown that, on average, drivers aged over 55 take 22 per cent longer to react than drivers under 30. This would add 7.62 metres (25ft ) or two car lengths to the stopping distance if braking from 70mph.

Below are some of the other problems that may affect the safety of older drivers on the road:

  • Eyesight
    can deteriorate gradually with age. An older driver may not realise their eyesight has deteriorated but it may be reducing their sight significantly, causing them to be at risk on the road.Poor eyesight can be a particular problem at night. The minimum amount of light needed for a person to be able to see is known as the absolute threshold and this increases as people get older. For every decade over 25, drivers need twice the brightness at night to receive visual information and therefore by age 75, some drivers may need 32 times the brightness they did at age 25 in order to be able to see properly. Glare can also be a particular problem to older drivers. Between the ages of 15 and 65, the recovery time from glare increases from two to nine seconds, and susceptibility to it also increases. Therefore, if a vehicle using main beam appears suddenly round a blind corner, this could prove problematic for the older driver who may have been dazzled, and it may take up to nine seconds for their eyesight to recover ? by which time they may have travelled a considerable distance. Reading road signs Research has shown that older people need to be closer to signs than younger people do in order to read them and that older drivers require signs to be brighter in order to read them clearly. However, as well as this, older people also need to be able to read signs for longer in order to process the information. If the driver sees signs too late, the time available to make the appropriate decision is reduced. According to research, younger people are capable of preparing the response simultaneously with seeing the sign, but in older people, the processing of the information and the response preparation occurs in stages.


  • Hearing
    is important for driving, yet is something which often deteriorates with age, adding to the risk factor for older drivers. Hearing can warn drivers of potential hazards or an emergency vehicle approaching from behind. Not being able to hear properly and being unable to hear an emergency vehicle approaching could be extremely dangerous, especially if a driver was to pull out into the path of a fast-moving emergency vehicle.
  • Movement
    Older people often suffer joint and muscle stiffness, which may affect how easily they can turn their head and body to look round when pulling out or reversing. *Older people also tend to be smaller and have shorter arm and leg reaches, either due to size or muscle stiffness, which can affect their ability to drive. For the majority of older people, adjusting the seating position can solve the problem. Technology advances such as power steering can also help older people to control the vehicle more easily.
  • Medicines

    Older drivers are more likely to take medication that may affect their driving. Prescription and over-the-counter medicines can cause drowsiness and affect concentration, in turn affecting a drivers safety on the road. 
  • Health

    Certain illnesses, such as epilepsy and diabetes, carry with them an increased risk of a crash on the road. These illnesses are more likely to affect older people, and therefore when combined with the other issues relating to older drivers, put them at a greater risk.
  • Driving rules

    Many drivers may not have looked at the Highway Code for years and for older drivers this could mean they are not up-to-date with current road signs or rules of the road. Being unaware of the meaning of a road sign can be very dangerous, especially if a driver comes across an unfamiliar sign while actually on the road and is unsure of what it is telling them.
  • Junctions
    are particular danger spots for older drivers especially when turning from a minor road onto a major one. Older drivers are at higher risk of a crash because their judgement of speed and distance has deteriorated slightly. 63.1% of older driver casualties occur at junctions, whereas 54.9% of the 0-29 age group casualties occur there. Junctions are a particular problem at night because oncoming headlights make judging speed and distance an added challenge.



What can be done to help older drivers stay safe on our roads?

Medical checks

Older drivers should be confident that they are fit and healthy enough to be on the road. It would be a good idea for older drivers to visit their doctor each year to discuss whether they are fit enough to continue to drive.

In addition to this older people wishing to continue driving should have regular eye and hearing tests to ensure that they are not putting themselves and other road users at risk on the road.


Refresher courses

Although older drivers may have years of experience behind them and feel that they know all there is to know about driving safely, most drivers will have picked up some bad habits during their years on the road. It only takes one bad habit to cause a fatal collision on the road, so taking a refresher course to brush up on the basic skills of the road and provide a boost to their confidence may be of great benefit to older drivers.

The Institute of Advanced Motorists offers refresher courses for ?35. If you are interested in taking a refresher course with an IAM representative, telephone 020 8996 9600.


Alternative modes of transport

While many drivers will be insistent that they wish to continue driving, others may not have considered their alternative options and may only be driving because they feel they need to. However, public transport could prove to be the easiest option for many older people, and is likely to also be the cheapest option. Pensioners are entitled to significant discounts on public transport, and at some times of the day travel is even free. Using buses or trains rather than a private car will mean the driver no longer has to worry about costs including road tax, insurance, maintenance costs, petrol and parking costs.


Bedford Borough Road Safety Team 

     telephone (01234) 228336

Email road.safety@bedford.gov.uk


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