According to the Transport Accident Commission (TAC), drivers aged 75 and over have a higher risk of being in a car accident than those in any other age group. This is partly because there are specific mental and physical changes that can affect some elderly drivers’ ability to drive, including their motor, visual and cognitive abilities. These changes are a natural part of the ageing process, but they can have a significant impact on their level of driving skills while on the road.

Some of the physiological changes that come with ageing can lead to:

  • Decreased visual acuity
  • Oversensitivity to glare that can impair night driving
  • Reduction in balance, flexibility and muscle strength
  • Slower reaction times
  • Slower processing speed
  • Slower perceptual and visual processing skills
  • Divided attention
  • Reduced executive function
  • Bouts of drowsiness due to the use of prescription drugsv

Safe driving entails the complex integration of motor, visual and cognitive processes, including being able to multitask while on the road. It involves looking out for road signs, traffic signals, potholes, pedestrians and wildlife. Drivers need to have the presence of mind to merge into traffic, change lanes, signal to other drivers and use the brakes when required. The need to be alert for all of these can be taxing on older drivers who may already be suffering from motor, visual or cognitive defects.

Senior driving safety

In terms of senior driving safety, many older drivers regulate their behaviour to reduce stress and compensate for their physiological deficits by:

  • Driving more slowly
  • Opting to drive under ideal conditions, for example, non-rush hours and in good weather
  • Avoiding twilight or night-time driving
  • Limiting trips to short distance drives
  • Stopping and parking when they feel drowsy

And while many older people still have adequate driving skills and are perfectly fit to drive, it is vital that they still actively look to improve their skills and confidence regularly.

Being able to keep their driver’s license not only helps with their sense of independence, but it also allows them the freedom to get from one place to another and even join other Grey Nomads who are road tripping around the country!

But how do you know if your elderly loved one can keep on driving or if you need to have a conversation with them explaining that this may not be possible anymore?

The simple answer is by helping them undertake a driving evaluation for seniors. Senior driver licencing laws are designed to keep drivers 75 years and over, as well as other road users, safe. However, the requirements differ for drivers aged 75 to 84 and drivers aged 85 and over, and they also vary by state.

Types of senior licenses

There are two types of licenses available to those over 75.

Unrestricted driver’s licence

This is a full licence without limitation — more than likely the type of licence your loved one has held for many years. To maintain an unrestricted driver’s licence from 85, they must complete a practical driving test or assessment every two years.

Modified licence

Senior drivers may instead choose to have a modified licence upon renewal. Through negotiations with the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS), your loved one’s license conditions could be modified. For example, a “home to town” condition could be implemented. Modified licence holders are not required to undertake a driving test or assessment.

Driving age limit for seniors

In terms of the driving age limit for seniors, here are the requirements by state.

Queensland

If your loved one is 75 and over, they must have a valid Medical Certificate for Motor Vehicle Driver Form (completed by their doctor) with them when driving. The maximum validity period for this form is 13 months, so they need to have it renewed at this time.

Six weeks before they turn 75, they will receive a reminder to ensure they have a valid medical certificate form before their birthday. Their doctor might also recommend they obtain a conditional licence, depending on their health.

New South Wales

If your loved one is a Class C (car etc.) or Class R (motorcycle) rider, they will be required to get annual medical checks when they reach the age of 75. The RMS will send them a form two months before they turn 75. They will need to get a medical assessment from their GP then return the form to a Roads and Maritime registry or Service NSW centre before their 75th birthday.

When they turn 85, they can opt for a modified licence. This lets them drive within their local area but has limits based on their individual needs. This type of license doesn’t require on-road assessments, but they still need to do their annual medical assessment. Alternatively, they can retain their unrestricted licence by continuing with a yearly medical assessment and passing an on-road driving assessment every two years.

Victoria

Licensed drivers in Victoria do not need to do anything when they reach a certain age. However, your loved one is legally obliged to notify VicRoads if they develop any permanent or long-term mental or physical conditions that might affect their ability to operate a vehicle. In some instances, VicRoads could also ask them to undergo a medical review. You should also be aware of changes that may affect your loved ones driving ability, including reaction times, joint pain and vision impairment that may increase their risk on the road.

South Australia

From the age of 75, licensed drivers are sent self-assessment Medical Fitness to Drive forms every year. It is designed to help your loved one think about their health and how it affects their ability to drive safely. If they answer any questions with a “yes”, they may be required to have their doctor’s input.

Western Australia

Drivers aged 80 and over are required to have annual medical assessments before they can renew their licence. A driving assessment is required only if their doctor recommends one. If your loved one is aged 80 to 84, they need to complete a medical assessment certificate and have their doctor do a medical exam each year. If your loved is 85 or over, they need to complete a medical assessment certificate and have a medical exam. Their doctor may also recommend they do a Practical Driving Assessment.

Tasmania

Senior drivers do not need to complete a medical check regularly. However, they are required to disclose any conditions that might affect their driving ability after they turn 65.

Northern Territory

Senior drivers in the Northern Territory are obligated to disclose any relevant conditions that could affect their driving ability and they are encouraged to examine their ability to drive regularly.

Australian Capital Territory

Senior drivers who are aged 75 or older are required to undergo an annual examination by their doctor using the Driver Licence Medical form. This medical certificate demonstrates they are fit and able to continue driving.

Types of driving evaluations

There are two types of driving evaluations — a Driving Test and a Driving Assessment.

Driving test

  • This is carried out by the RMS at a local motor registry without charge.
  • This is a practical driving test with eight “fail items”. If they commit one of these fail items during the test, the RMS will not pass them regardless of their overall driving performance.
  • A list of the “fail items” can be found in the Guide to Older Driver Licensing booklet available from the RMS.
  • If they don’t pass in three attempts, a modified licence will be issued. They may attempt to upgrade to a full licence by successfully passing a Driving Assessment with an accredited assessor.

Driving assessment

  • This is carried out by a licensed driving instructor who holds a Senior Assessor Qualification.
  • Assessments are commonly conducted from your loved one’s home on the streets they drive every day.
  • They can take as many assessments as they like on the proviso they don’t perform a “serious fail” based on the RMS standards.
  • A “serious fail” may be recorded where their driving behaviours represent a danger to themselves and other road users.
  • This option is on a fee-for-service basis.

Driving lessons for seniors

To be prepared for any driving evaluations, it may be worth your elderly loved one undertaking some driving lessons for seniors. Refresher lessons will ensure they are well prepared and will provide feedback on areas for improvement, give them an update on the latest road rules, and increase their knowledge of what the “fail items” are.

Organisations like the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland Limited (RACQ) also offer free presentations to community groups. One of their popular programs is called the Years Ahead program, which covers topics such as:

  • Recent changes to the Queensland road rules (including merging and roundabouts).
  • Medical considerations when driving.
  • Alternative transport options (such as motorised wheelchairs).

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