Road Safety News
 

Can older drivers be 'nudged'?

Wednesday 9th February 2011

A new report published by the RAC Foundation questions whether older drivers can be ‘nudged’ in order to self-regulate their driving.

According to the report, 'Can older drivers be nudged?', currently most people only seriously re-consider their abilities behind the wheel when they reach the age of 70 - when they are required by law to reapply for their licence and certify they are safe to have one.

But one of the conclusions of the report is that motorists need to be encouraged to face up to the limitations of physical and mental ageing at whatever stage of life it occurs.

Dr Craig Berry, author of the report, says that older drives already self-regulate their behaviour, but they need to be given more help – particularly from those in the medical profession – to ensure that decisions made about driving are timely and appropriate, not just for their benefit but also for that of other road users.

Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “The older population is set to grow considerably. Official figures estimate that 10 million people who are alive today will reach their 100th birthday. And by 2023 a quarter of the population is expected to be over 65.

“Key to our mental and physical wellbeing throughout life is personal mobility and for many that involves car use.

“Older drivers are no less safe on the roads than the rest of the driving population, at least until the age of 80.

“Rather than discriminate against older drivers by setting arbitrary age limits beyond which motorists are seen as posing a hazard, we should develop a system that encourages individual responsibility amongst all drivers.”

Click here to read the full RAC Foundation report: ‘Can older drivers be nudged?’.

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Lately I have found that the police will take away an older driver's license if he or she is involved in an accident, irrespective of who was to blame for the accident. I am convinced that many older drivers are every bit as safe on the roads as many a younger driver. In fact, many over confident young brash drivers are extremely dangerous. In my opinion, age should not be a factor in determining a person's ability to drive safely.
T. Peckham. Gloucestershire

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I think we need to thank Jeremy for the steadying hand the calms the turbulent sea of emotion, but I am wary of academic, and somewhat grandiose, expressions such as libertarian paternalism. I am happy with Jeremy's objective of keeping the elderly behind the wheel - or astride the motorbike - for longer and safer and I too found Thaler and Sunstein an agreeable read. However, as with most research documents, they can be flawed, misinterpreted and used for ulterior motives and it is this danger that makes me nervous, not the delights in Devon offered to people of maturity. All the research I have come across regarding the elderly driver/rider has shown a propensity towards the conclusion that there is not a significant problem yet we are continually being fed new but repetitive evidence. At the risk of repeating the repetition, the frightening danger it is that someone somewhere will see glory in saving older people from themselves.
Roy Buchanan, Principal Road Safety Officer, Sutton

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Well said Roy,
At 63 yrs of age, and after a lifetime of motorcycling during which I spent a period of 28 yrs as a despatch rider, and 5 yrs as a bus driver, I feel more restrictions in the wind when hearing of yet more assessments and programs for road safety. I have repeated the same to all whom I meet and converse with on the subject; that Road Safety is an attitude of mind, and no amount of so called safety features in any particular vehicle or even piece of clothing is going to stop an accident happening. Granted such items will or may reduce any injury (though in some cases they can accentuate same), but the primary source of safety originates within the head - nowhere else. Yet in almost every instance this core necessity is by-passed in favour of moves to legislate and restrict.

Some old people are indeed in need of re-appraisal of their skills, and only test of their responses and abilities will reveal their abilities. How this may be determined as necessary is difficult to define other than any accident records. But in the main, do we need refresher courses to remind us how to brush our teeth?
Derek Reynolds, St Albans

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The report refers to "Nudge - Improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness" by Thaler and Sunstein. It's an enlightening read and proposes the principle of libertarian paternalism. The latter would not, as might have been implied here, advocate penalising drivers on the basis of their age or legislating against them or any other section of society. That would be directly opposed to the principle of the libertarian paternalism concept and it is what the concept of "nudging" is there to avoid.

On first reading the RAC report appears to acknowledge a high degree of self-regulation and wishes to build on that by enabling older drivers to make choices that are right for them and at the time that they need to make them. Leave choices to the driver, but help them to understand the issues and range of options that may help them depending on their individual circumstances.

The recent Devon CC report on older drivers - which can be found in the knowledge centre - also acknowledges a degree of self regulation and, significantly, noted gender differences in the sorts of self regulation that drivers might impose on themselves. This included, for example, female drivers giving up their licences earlier than their male contemporaries. Our preference would be to see such drivers 'nudged' towards taking steps that would keep them driving and independently mobile for longer - rather than electing to give up their vehicles. I'm sure Roy and Mark would see the sense in this and the approach is central to the nudge principle.

On my reading of Nudge I found myself scribbling furiously on Older, Younger and At-Work drivers and we have already begun the process of looking at how sensible choices for the individual and common good might be encouraged without finger pointing or legislative actions.
Jeremy Phillips

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I agree 100% with Roy. See the IAM news item of 18/1/10 published on this site concerning this subject. My comments then are the same now i.e. :-

I am pleased that the results of this research dispel some silly myths about older drivers. Drivers, where physically and mentally competent, should not be discouraged from driving at any age. Let us not promote ageism and discriminate under the umbrella of road safety.

As the IAM spokesperson recommends - education and driver development, where appropriate, is a far more positive and effective intervention.
Mark, Wiltshire

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I get the same type of apprehension when I read reports on older drivers as I do when some uninitiated person proposes compulsory racing leathers for all powered-two wheeler riders. If we keep resurrecting a topic frequently enough, an unknown civil servant in Whitehall will see it as a gateway to an OBE and ensure it reaches the legislature.

Dr Berry states that older drivers already self-regulate their driving behaviour. Andrew Howard of the AA said the same thing many years ago. The IAM followed suit last year. Professor Glaister says older drivers are no less safe than any other drivers.

There is a lesson to be learned from the worn-out DRL issue. Initially thought of in Finland in the late '70s (I think) and intended to help Scandinavian drivers who have to cope with very short daylight hours in winter, it is becoming the norm in Europe. Why should a driver in southern Spain have to show how illuminating his zenon headlights are in brilliant Mediterranean sunshine? Why should I, approaching 70, be 'nudged' into being retested? In 2009, I went to Italy doing 2,152 miles in nine days - on a motorcycle. Please can I be left in peace to enjoy my riding without some environmental-friendly, post-graduate researcher telling me I am dodgy on two wheels.
Roy Buchanan, Sutton

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