Big push for driver’s licence change for elderly Australians

There were 247 fatal road collisions in Victoria in the 2022-23 financial year – and 28 of those involved a driver at fault who was 65 or older.

Victorian driver's licence pictured with an elderly driver behind the wheel.
There are growing calls for Victoria to fall in line with other Australian states when it comes to the elderly holding onto their driver's licence. Source: AAP

A new push for regular testing for drivers over a certain age in the country's second most populous state is bitterly dividing residents, with some saying older drivers are more cautious on the roads, while others argue almost every other jurisdiction has such systems in place.

The Victorian government is holding out and resisting calls for drivers to undergo annual health and competency checks once they turn 75. But The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is pushing for new, age-based regulations for drivers to bring the state in line with most other jurisdictions in Australia.

It would mean older drivers would need to more routinely prove they're fit to be behind the wheel.

There were 247 fatal collisions in Victoria in the 2022-23 financial year and 28 of those involved a driver at fault who was 65 or older, Victoria Police data shows.

Meanwhile police data obtained by The Age dating back to 2018 shows that 145 people died and 7,080 motorists were injured in road accidents in a five year period caused by people aged over 65. This age group comprises almost 20 per cent of licence holders, up from 16 per cent a decade ago.

Victoria currently does not require drivers over a certain age to have a health check before driving. However, drivers in NSW, Queensland, ACT, Tasmania and the Northern Territory must have medical checks after 75. The age is lifted to 80 in Western Australia while older drivers in South Australia must complete self-assessments.

Victorian woman Pat, pictured, is for aged-based testing.
Victorian woman Pat is for aged-based testing. Source: 9News

Medical professionals say introducing the testing will save lives.

"We're calling on the government to consider making these annual health checks just part of routine business and making it mandatory just like it is in other states," RACGP vice president Michael Clements said. The college is not pushing for mandatory driving tests and Associate Professor Clements believes health assessments offer the "biggest bang for buck".

Older drivers can be slower to react to threats or can have diminished vision, memory or concentration due to ageing or new medication. "Our ability to respond to shocks, changes in weather conditions, kids running out on the roads chasing a ball, all of those things happen quite suddenly," Prof Clements said.

"We do need all of our faculties to carry out that appropriately."

Victorian woman Pat is for aged-based testing. She's already predominantly driven around by her son and her carer, but still has a licence. "I just thought I was getting too old," she told 9News. "But I've still got my licence in case I need it."

Prof Clements argues capable drivers would find the assessments straightforward and quick. However, Victorian minister Steve Dimopoulos rejected the call, saying drivers aged 75 already had to renew their licence every three years, which could include various tests.

A view of Melbourne CBD.
Victoria is one of the only states in the country that currently does not test drivers over a certain age. Source: Getty

Despite the calls from the medical community, the state government appears resistant to the idea.

"There's no compelling evidence that would indicate that an age based assessment model makes it any safer for drivers on the road," Dimopoulos told reporters.

Council on the Ageing Victoria and Seniors Rights Victoria chief executive Chris Potaris said mandatory driving tests for older drivers would be "ageist and arbitrary". Driving should be based on ability rather than age and costly medical tests could prompt older people to relinquish their licence prematurely, which could leave them isolated, he said.

"We believe the current system and approach already provides that safety net, with suitable and appropriate opportunities to engage with drivers," Potaris said.

"Older drivers do not inherently pose a greater safety risk on roads compared to other age groups."

A spokesperson for the Department of Transport and Planning said all drivers were encouraged to consult their doctor about how health conditions and medication could impact their driving.

with AAP

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