Call for review of older driver screening


DRIVER ASSESSMENTS for those over 70 are a waste of time and do not help make the roads safer, one of Ireland’s best-known geriatricians has claimed.

Joint research carried out by Aois and Eolas, the centre for ageing, neurosciences and the humanities at Tallaght hospital and Yale University, has concluded that the current screening of drivers when they reach 70 is inefficient.

Instead, it should be replaced by a screening programme for those who are known to be at risk of diseases such as dementia, strokes or Parkinson’s disease which might impair driving.

Prof Des O’Neill, consultant geriatrician at Tallaght hospital in Dublin, said repeated studies had shown that older drivers were not a greater risk on the road and, while there was some impairment of function as drivers get older it was compensated for by their experience and caution. “There is a French saying which, when translated, says: ‘In getting old, you get more mad and more wise’, and people forget you get wiser. Older people tend to be sensible drivers. Their accident record is better than younger drivers every year,” he said.

The first Irish Cochrane Review in geriatric medicine has found that the cognitive test that most strongly predicted future crashes would put 20 times more safe drivers off the road than it would prevent potential crashes.

The review calculated that, if used as a screening tool, it would potentially prevent six crashes per 1,000 people over 65 screened, but at the price of stopping the driving of 121 people who would not have a crash.

The Road Safety Authority (RSA) is currently reviewing the fitness-to-drive guidelines.

Prof O’Neill said it should be actively looking at putting in an assessment system for people over 70 who are known to have a significant medical problem.

“Stop wasting everybody’s money and time on mass screening. Move the resources that are wasted on older driver screening to a more targeted process which would be much more cost effective,” Prof O’Neill said.

The Cochrane Reviews work by collating all possible sources of high-quality research. They are currently finalising a second Cochrane Review into the effectiveness of acute geriatric medicine which will be presented at the International Association on Gerontology in Paris in July.