Safe driving in old age – our guide

Older drivers

Driving is a vital part of freedom and independence for many people. But is there a time when we should stop driving, and if so, when is it? There is, quite rightly, no age at which you are legally required to stop driving. Questioning older drivers' fitness to be on the roads is often no more than an excuse for thinly disguised ageism. It's whether you're a safe driver that matters, not the date on your birth certificate.

However, it is also the case that for some people, our reaction times can slow as we get older, or our capacity to withstand stress can change, and this can impact our fitness to drive. And, difficult as it may be, it is obviously better to talk to someone about their driving if you think they are a danger to themselves and other people, than to wait until they have an accident.

You need to tell the DVLA straightaway if you develop a medical or physical issue that could affect your driving. There's a list of notifiable conditions at www.gov.uk/health-conditions-and-driving. These include mobility difficulties and medical conditions like diabetes or glaucoma. Some conditions mean you can't drive for a while, or the DVLA might ask you to make some modifications to your car.

Your eyesight also needs to be good enough to read a number plate 20 metres away, with glasses or contact lenses if you need them.

Old age and driving: broaching the subject

Hopefully this is obvious, but if you do need to talk to an older person about their driving, it's important to do so with empathy, sensitivity and tact, and not make them feel attacked. One option is to go for a professional driving assessment. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and the Institute of Advanced Motorists both offer these. The sessions last about an hour, and you get a report reviewing your driving ability.

Other ways to get around

If you decide you don't want to drive any more, there are lots of concessions on public transport for older people:

Free bus pass: In England you can get a free bus pass when you reach the state pension age (this varies depending on your date of birth; see www.gov.uk/state-pension-age/y/bus_pass).

Senior railcard: A senior railcard saves you a third on rail fares throughout Great Britain, and costs £30 for a year, or £70 for three years. You can buy it at a train station or from www.senior-railcard.co.uk – you'll need proof of age in the form of your birth certificate, passport or driving licence.

London Freedom Pass: If you live in London and have reached the state pension age, this entitles you to free travel on the London underground, buses, trams, DLR, London Overground and TfL Rail. You also get free bus travel in the rest of England.

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