Wednesday, 10 May 2023
A multiple hit-and-run in Spain's Galicia region last weeked that left 18 people injured has sparked debate about elderly drivers after the 80-year-old driver tested negative for alcohol and drugs.
In 2019, a serious traffic accident in the UK involving the then 97-year-old Prince Philip brought into question what should be the maximum driving age in Britain.
Experts advocated a maximum age limit to be established, just as there is for a minimum age, due to the physical and mental decline that comes with old age.
But the World Health Organization (WHO) went on record advising against it and argued; "not to remove older people from driving unless there are justifiable reasons because for many people, the use of a vehicle brings quality of life and integration".
In Spain, according to the latest Directorate-General for Traffic (DGT) data as of 7 May 2023, the over-65 age group is one of those with the highest number of fatalities this year, with a total of 69, the same number as drivers aged between 45 and 54.
However the data swings both ways. According to a report carried out in 2022 by the AXA Road Safety Study Centre, drivers aged 66 to 70, most of who are already retired, have an accident frequency 17% lower than average. These figures are even lower among drivers aged 71 to 75 and those over 75, with frequencies 23% and 26% lower than average, respectively.
In addition to their greater driving experience, there are other factors which reduce their risk, such as using their cars less, and using them during off-peak times.
More likely to have an accident because of their age were drivers aged between 18 and 21, at 57%, presumably due to their inexperience behind the wheel.
The report reflected how, on the one hand, drivers over 70 have the fewest accidents but, on the other hand, when they do have accidents they are responsible for most of them.
Requirements for renewing the driving licence
In Spain, the driving licence (class B) is renewed every 10 years until you reach the age of 65, at which point it expires every five years.
According to the DGT, "continuing to drive does not depend on age, but on the state of the driver's abilities and aptitudes". For this reason, those from the age of 65 onwards the period of validity of the driving licence is reduced in order to ensure that the ability of the driver to drive is intact.
The criteria varies across the rest of Europe. In countries such as Germany, France, Belgium and Austria, age is not taken into account when renewing the licence, and no restrictions of any kind are applied.
Italy is the country where the most restrictions apply, from the age of 50 onwards, with a 10-year licence expiry date. In Portugal, age restrictions start to apply from the age of 60, and from 65 in the Czech Republic. Spain agrees with the Netherlands in having regular medical checks for drivers from the age of 70.
Distractions at the wheel
In addition to the age factor, distractions at the wheel, which cause one in three fatal accidents in Spain, must also be taken into account. In the last decade, they have caused 238,000 accidents, seriously injuring more than 30,000 and killing 6,200.
According to a report by Línea Directa foundation based on accident rate data from the DGT's ARENA database (2012-2021) and the results of 1,700 surveys carried out throughout Spain, the number of accidents caused by distractions has fallen, but the fatality rate has increased by 52%. Despite the fewer incidents, they were more lethal because drivers do not respect speed limits, the report established. This has triggered penalties for speeding to increase by 26% since the pandemic.
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