Driving in old age: when old drivers become a deadly danger

Poor eyesight, slow reaction time: many older people can no longer drive safely. But unlike other countries, policymakers are reluctant to carry out follow-up tests.

A participant in the driving training course for seniors aged 65 and over'Fit im Auto' stellt ihren Ruckspiegel ein.

An 81-year-old woman drives her car off a state highway in victor County and crashes into a group of five motorcyclists. They were standing with their vehicles at a bus stop. Two men are seriously injured. This happened on saturday.

An 88-year-old man mistakes the brake pedal for the gas pedal when parking in front of a pharmacy in hessisch oldendorf (hameln district). His car shoots off, two passers-by can only save themselves with a courageous leap to the side. That was on tuesday. Far worse ended on the 13th. May the accident in brandenburg, in which an 81-year-old man crashed his car into a group of berlin cyclists on bundesstrasse 179 in the district of dahme-spreewald. A 51-year-old woman died a short time later, the other three were seriously injured.

After horror incidents like these, there are immediate calls for mandatory fitness to drive tests for seniors. Their eyesight is poorer, their hearing declines. Older drivers also react more slowly, their cognitive abilities decline, and they often misjudge dangerous situations, it is argued.

At first glance, the statistics seem to confirm these reservations. "three-quarters of those over 75 bear the main blame for accidents in which they are involved," says siegfried brockmann, head of accident research at the GDV insurance association. This means that they performed even worse than the 18- to 21-year-olds, who are generally considered a high-risk group, with a rate of 70 percent.

In terms of overall numbers, however, the situation is much more favorable: although people over the age of 65 make up 20 percent of the population, they cause far fewer accidents (13 percent), the ADAC calculates, and warns against prejudice: "senior citizens at the wheel often have a bad reputation – and wrongly so."the fact that they drive far less frequently than younger people is not mentioned by the automobile club.

Even brockmann admits that older people, as a relatively small group, are not yet a problem in terms of the absolute frequency of accidents. However, the number of senior citizens will increase rapidly in the coming years, and with it their participation in road traffic. "then the pressure of suffering on the legislator will increase," the expert predicts with a view to the higher accident figures to be expected for this age group.

Only truck and bus drivers over 50 have to take the test

In contrast to other countries, older drivers in germany do not need to have their roadworthiness tested. Only truck and bus drivers over 50 must take the test. France, denmark, italy, portugal and the netherlands, on the other hand, send their drivers from a certain age, sometimes as early as 50, for a roadworthiness test, a health checkup or at least an eye check.

In this country, politicians shy away from such compulsory tests. The federal ministry of transport waves off such inquiries, and the federal states do not think much of mandatory checks either. "the necessity of legal requirements for health or other checks is not seen at present," says the SPD/CDU government in lower saxony.

"in principle, it is the responsibility of each individual to determine for themselves whether they are capable of driving a vehicle safely without endangering themselves or others or even causing harm," emphasizes lower saxony’s interior minister boris pistorius (SPD) in an interview with the tagesspiegel newspaper. This basic rule applies to everyone before starting a journey, irrespective of factors such as age or state of health. "that’s why I can only encourage everyone to check their own driving condition during a driver training course."

Experts call for mandatory participation in test drives

The traffic court conference at the end of january 2017 had already relied on insight and common sense and initially ruled out mandatory tests. the respected panel in goslar advocated voluntary "feedback drives" accompanied by a driving instructor or traffic psychologist, which would show the older people possible deficits. But: if it turns out that such test drives are not being used sufficiently, "participation should be made mandatory," the experts demanded at the time. Up to now, ADAC and ACE have offered voluntary feedback tours, but only 3300 older drivers took part in 2017.

1,800 senior citizens took part in the one-day "fit im Auto" program organized by the Lower Saxony traffic watch association, which included brake training and a driving school trip. The "sicher mobil" (safely mobile) courses offered by the German Traffic Safety Council were more popular, with 83 senior citizens taking part.000 older people learn, among other things, how to transfer from cars to public transport.

Accident researcher brockmann believes that mandatory test drives, during which neutral authorities point out mistakes to senior citizens and make qualified recommendations, are the right way forward. However, these tests would have to meet certain standards in order to be able to identify real deficits. Two research projects are currently underway, which will have to be followed by a "field test" in traffic and training of the accompanying persons. It will take another six or seven years. Brockmann emphasizes that age alone is not a criterion for driving quality. "there are 40 year olds who are bad drivers. And there are 80-year-olds who are still really good drivers."

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