Honorary Fellow defends older drivers

A distinguished British psychologist has questioned a new study that suggests that older people overestimate their driving ability.

Published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention, the study revealed 85 per cent of senior motorists believe their skills on the road to be either excellent or good - even though one-quarter of them were involved in a collision during a five-year research period.

Investigators at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), who used Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration data to compile their results, discovered not a single respondent admitted their driving might be poor.

In addition, just one per cent of those questioned said their control over a vehicle was fair - suggesting senior road users have a lack of awareness with regard to safe motoring practices.

Lesley Ross, Assistant Professor in the UAB Department of Psychology, said: "A large debate in driving research is whether or not at-risk drivers can self-regulate and thus possibly reduce their crash risk."

But Emeritus Professor Pat Rabbitt, an Honorary Fellow of the British Psychological Soceity, is not impressed by the study. He says:

"The unmentioned elephant in the room is that all drivers, including young adults (who have notoriously high accident rates), insist that they drive ‘better than average’. So the age thing is a red herring.

"A contributing factor, of course, is that elderly drivers do feel themselves under scrutiny from family and friends and so are more keen than most to protest their competence. They seem to have a point since, objectively, and allowing for differences in journey times and distances, drivers over 60 have significantly fewer accidents than most of the population. Accident rates fall from a high in the 20s and 30s to a low in middle age and then show only a very slight rise in older groups.

"A contributory factor to this excellent safety record is that older drivers do recognise when they are becoming at risk and then voluntarily withdraw. Indeed older drivers often complain that, if public transport and their living arrangements allowed this, they would give up driving. Indeed one can take these robust and objective statistics as clear evidence that the recognition of incompetence is not much impaired in old age."