Judge’s remarks on elderly drivers ‘wrong’ and ‘ageist’

Period of late maturity offers better strategic and tactical thinking, according to experts

The Road Safety Authority said its statistics showed “elderly drivers were not over-represented in crash statistics”

The Road Safety Authority said its statistics showed “elderly drivers were not over-represented in crash statistics”

 

Claims by a judge that the growing number of elderly drivers on the road poses a danger to motorists are “ageist” and “just wrong”, road safety experts have said.

Prof Desmond O’Neill, a leading gerontologist, said scientific literature on the subject suggested an ageing population would result in a “steady state or reducing” level of crashes.

Prof O’Neill said the remarks by Circuit Court judge Seán Ó Donnabháinwere “very ill informed”.

During a case in Cork involving an 84-year-old man whose vehicle struck a cyclist, Judge Ó Donnabháin said the issue of older motorists being involved in crashes “is a problem that will increase in the future”. However, Prof O’Neill said these kind of remarks emerged “when judges stray outside of the scope of their expertise”.

Prof O’Neill, who has published on the subject in the Journal of Accident Analysis and Prevention, said experience and cognitive gains in late maturity combined with “better strategic and tactical thinking” to ensure a low level of crashes among the elderly.

Asked if it was likely that an increasing older population with more cars would bring about a greater level of crashes, Prof O’Neill said “that is bar stool gerontology and bar stool traffic medicine”.

The Road Safety Authority said its statistics showed “elderly drivers were not over-represented in crash statistics” and were probably among the safest groups of drivers.

Justin Moran, of Age Action Ireland, said elderly drivers were generally safer with regard to not drink driving and not speeding. They were not over-represented in crashes.

‘Baffling’

He said the judge’s remarks were “frankly ageist” and “baffling” in the light of the fact that drivers over 70 had to be regularly certified by their GPs as fit to drive.

Michael Maher, vice-president of the Active Retirement Association, said he had been driving since 1968, and was recently been certified by a GP as fit to continue doing so.

He said there was increasing ageism in society, and even though people had been certified fit to drive, society held them to be unfit because of age.“If any other minority group could be treated this way there would be outrage.”

Guidelines for GPs have been developed by the National Office for Traffic Medicine on behalf of the Road Safety Authority.

Called Sláinte agus Tiomáint, Medical Fitness to Drive Guidelines, they contain medical standards to guide the health assessments of drivers for licensing purposes. The most recent guidelines were published in April 2017.