Help me get my old dad off the road

By Jonathan Goldberg, August 19, 2010
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Hilda from Kensington writes: My beloved father is now approaching 80 and has been driving all his life. He has a larger than life, dominating and stubborn personality. He was very successful in business until his retirement. He lost my mother two years ago and I am his only child. He is vain, and unwilling to come to terms with his age. He refuses to move from his six-bedroom suburban house or change his Rolls Royce for a smaller car, and he colours his hair.

I am telling you all this frankly so you understand the kind of man he is, and the problem I have.

My children have joked for some time about his awful driving, but I thought they were exaggerating. Last weekend I was horrified to discover for myself they are right.

He was driving my husband and I home from golf, and he almost killed us all when he failed to observe an oncoming car as he exited into a main road. Later in the same journey he accidentally hit the kerb.

Elderly drivers lose spatial awareness and have slower reaction times

I fear Daddy is fast becoming a danger to himself and to other road users. He could well afford his own driver, but he went mad with me when I suggested this. What can I do to get him off the road?

Hilda, this problem is more common than you might imagine, although by the sound of it, your father is a lot more difficult to handle than most. According to official statistics, drivers aged 70 or over are three times more likely to be killed or seriously injured in a road crash than drivers aged between 40 and 65. Moreover, the proportion of people aged over 70 who hold a driving licence, has risen from 15 per cent in 1975 to 47 per cent in 2004.

There are numerous reported cases each year of truly awful road accidents caused by elderly drivers, due to their loss of spatial awareness and slower reaction times. As you are finding with your father, they themselves are usually too proud to acknowledge their decline in performance. It is therefore surprising that the licensing requirements for the elderly are so lax. After one's 70th birthday is reached, one's driving licence must be renewed every three years. However, it is done online and with minimal difficulty. There is no requirement to pass a new driving test let alone a medical examination, and there is no upper age limit. The driver must simply self-certify each three years on his application form that he suffers from no new medical condition adversely affecting his driving, and that he can read a numberplate at 20 metres.

"Bis hundert zwanzig", or "May you drive to 120", seems to be the government's over-generous attitude. However, there is a remedy for you Hilda, in these anxious circumstances, although it is a drastic one. If you write to the Drivers Medical Group at the DVLA in Swansea, telling them who you are, and who and where your father is, and explaining the problem as you have done with me, they will treat your letter in total confidence. They will write to him requesting a medical examination, and probably thereafter a driving assessment test. They will not tell him why. If he simply ignores them, they will revoke his licence. If he fails the tests, they will revoke. They receive many such letters each year from concerned relatives just like yourself, and sometimes of course from angry victims, like the driver of the on-coming car you mentioned above.

An alternative is for you to have a confidential word with your father's doctor, and seek his assistance. There is now an obligation on doctors which transcends medical confidentiality to report to the DVLA similarly, if they have reason to believe a patient is a danger on the roads but will not voluntarily surrender his driving licence.

As Oliver Cromwell said: "Not what they want, but what's good for them." How would you feel if you simply left it, and he did then kill someone?

The above is not formal legal advice and is given without liability. Jonathan Goldberg QC, of Ely Place Chambers, is a leading London barrister

    Last updated: 2:05pm, September 3 2010