Right: the interior of an early Holden. Note the manual gearshift mounted on the steering column and (inset) the brake and clutch pedals. Could this be a factor in older drivers apparently mistaking the accelerator for the brake in a modern automatic vehicle?
Arguments in favour of special conditions being imposed on elderly Victorian motorists
1. Most older drivers do not have the good cognitive skills and quick reaction times necessary to drive in modern, high-speed traffic.
Many road accident experts say that most older drivers reach a point in their natural ageing process where they become a danger to themselves and to others if they continue to operate their cars.
Many accidents have been caused by elderly motorists who apparently forgot either where the car's controls were, or forgot how to use them.
Two recent accidents in Queensland car parks resulted in deaths. The elderly drivers were reported as having mixed the brake and the accelerator pedals up.
In fact, the American AARP organization, (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) lists this as one of the signs that elderly drivers should note as a reason to hand in their driving licence.
Other signs listed by AARP are:
* Trouble seeing traffic signs and signals
* Misjudging gaps in traffic at intersections
* Getting lost, especially in familiar locations
2. Older drivers are more likely to die in road accidents than are drivers from younger age groups
VicRoads statistics for the first seven months of 2013 found that one in five Victorian driver fatalities was a motorist over 70 years of age. The numbers and percentage have increased since 2010.
This would indicate that increasing numbers of drivers over seventy would inevitably lead to the percentage of elderly motorists dying in road accidents to be larger as the huge post-war generation (the "baby-boomers") gets older.
A study by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA, and based on data from the five years to 2004, found that drivers aged 75 to 84 were killed on the roads at about the same rate as another high-risk group, teenaged motorists.
However, drivers 85 and older were found to be dying on the roads at four times the rate of teenagers.
3. The number of older drivers in Australia is increasing
Studies have demonstrated that the number of elderly drivers (defined as those over 65) on Australian roads is increasing for three reasons. Firstly, as the population ages, the number of elderly drivers is increasing. Improved life expectancy and reduced birth rates in Australia mean that there will be more and more elderly drivers in absolute terms and relative to the rest of the population. Projections made by the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest that by 2016 16% of Australia's population will be over 65, while by 2051 the percentage will be 24 (that is nearly a quarter of Australia's population). These figures are consistent a 2001OECD report which predicted that the proportion of people aged over 65 in Australia will be around 18% in 2020 and 25% in 2050.
Secondly, the number of elderly citizens who hold a drivers' licence is increasing. In earlier periods fewer Australians drove. Now, virtually the whole population acquires a driver's licence and is a regular driver. This includes women, who, a generation ago, were less likely to driver than their male counterparts. This means that as our population ages, all members of that population are likely to be drivers. This trend toward increased driving was supported by a recent survey conducted in Melbourne which found that, among those aged over 65, 75% of men and 40% of women
were licensed to drive, while for those aged 45 to 54, nearly 100% of men and 90% of women held licences,
Finally, the number of drivers is increasing because the proportion of those over 65 who wish to retain their licences and continue driving has grown.
Many authorities argue that the dramatic increase in the number of elderly drivers makes it more important that appropriate restrictions are placed upon them.
4. Older people do not need cars to travel to work and cheap, subsidised public transport is available for routine travel to shop and for social reasons.
In Melbourne, Victoria's capital city, a system of buses, trains, light rail and trams services the city and suburbs. An article in tripadvisor.com.au, an international travel site, praises Melbourne's system in its introductory paragraph, as: "... efficient, inexpensive, safe and extensive. The system consists of trains, trams (including two conversions of former rail lines that are now akin to 'light rail') and buses. The trams criss-cross the city and are probably what you will use most unless you head out to the outer suburbs; on weekdays you can expect one every 3-12 mins, on weekends about every 12-15 mins until nightfall when 20 minutes is a typical wait. The free City Circle tram goes around the Central Business District, including Docklands."
A Victorian Seniors Card entitles pensioners to concession fares on public transport and even some free weekend travel, according to the information on the Public Transport Victoria website.
Some advocates of public transport point to its health and other benefits for a community. VicHealth CEO Dr Rob Moodie has been quoted in the Urban Design Forum website as saying "Suburbs that rely only on cars are more likely to make people fatter, sicker, lonelier and probably more depressed."
5. Modern cars are too technologically advanced for elderly drivers
Recent incidents in which accidents were apparently caused by the elderly motorist "mixing up the brake and accelerator" have been well publicised.
One possible explanation was pointed out in Steve Perkin's Herald-Sun column, In Black And White. Perkin quoted "Jeanette" as saying, "Many of these drivers learnt to drive in a car originally that had a clutch pedal as well, and then had to relearn in automatics." Perkin quoted "John" as saying that he was "one of the old brigade brought up on manual transmissions who still use the left foot for the brake".
"John" suggested that brake pedals should be larger and that there should be a ledge on the right-hand side of the pedal to prevent the driver's foot from slipping off it.
The American Claris Law site, The Legal Examiner published an opinion piece by Matt Gurwell, who says he was struck by some older drivers' ignorance of vehicle accessories and safety features. Gurwell wrote:
"I have ridden shotgun with older drivers that did not realize their outside mirrors were adjustable, or that they could unlock their vehicle by simply pushing on one of the key's little black buttons ... There are drivers who do not know how to activate their four-way flashers in case of an emergency, and have always wondered "what that red triangle button was for.''
Gurwell also told of an elderly woman driver who did not know what the ticking of the turn signal was, asking if the sound was coming from Gurley's mobile phone.