There´s no escaping it, we are all getting older. No matter what our current physical or mental age might be, there will come a time when our abilities start to deteriorate, often unnoticed, and we need to take steps to ensure that although we may be getting on in years, we can still be mobile and live life to the full.
Aging affects our ability to move, whether as pedestrians, drivers or on public transport. Many of these changes occur slowly, progressively and often almost imperceptibly. And not in the same way for everyone. In Spain there are currently 8.6 million people over 65, 18% of the population that, if the trend continues, by 2030 it will be 30%.
In terms of road safety statistics, the DGT registered more than 12,000 traffic collisions in 2016 where people over the age of 65 were involved, accounting for 12% of the total figure. There were 513 fatalities in the over 65 age group, over a quarter at 28% of all deaths, and more than 1,500 senior citizens were seriously injured, some 16% of the total.
Once the retirement age is reached, we find a very diverse group of people, conditioned by the physical deterioration of their age but with very variable personal circumstances. Road safety specialists emphasise the importance of raising awareness within the senior society of their own limitations, as well as that of their environment, in which the family, the primary care physician and society play a fundamental role. “It is essential that they are aware of these deficits and compensate them. Their limitations do not incapacitate them, but they do condition them,” says Enrique Mirabet, a physician and member of the Spanish Society of Traffic Medicine (SEMT).
Restrict yes, limit no.
Currently, European policies tend not to limit the validity of the driving licence due to age, but to restrict driving at certain times of the day or in certain areas. “The assessment of the elderly must be individualised, since there is a great variability in their psychophysical conditions,” explains Elena Valdés, medical advisor of the DGT.
“We must analyse each case individually, assessing damages and benefits because it is that person who is driving, taking into account their physical limitations but also their personal circumstances, and their mobility needs,” says José Ignacio Lijarcio, researcher at the University Institute of Traffic and Road Safety (INTRAS), an entity that has recently developed the Health Road Barometer for the Elderly (SAVIMA), in which they investigated the incident rate and health of the elderly and developed a medical guide for professionals in recognition centres.
So, where do we limit to the mobility of the elderly? “We do not have an equal limitation for everyone, it depends on each person. Years ago a man of 70 was an old man. Today there are 85-year-old people who are very healthy,” says PilarCervelló, doctor and president of the Valencian Association of Recognition Centres.
Continuing with restrictions.
In 2017, 690,000 medical examinations were made of people over the age of 65 in Spain: 81% were declared fit and able to continue driving, the others presenting visual, perceptive-motor and hearing problems, for which the most frequent types of restrictions were to shorten the periods of validity of the licence and subsequent re-examination to below 5 years, and the limitations to driving in certain areas and at the daytime.
Review periods. Roadway health specialists consider that certain changes are necessary in the current drivers’ reviews: “Examinations for those over 70 should be done every two years instead of every five. The Administration should expand the protocols for them,” says Lijarcio. For Enrique Mirabet, you also have to “check the age from which a person is considered ‘older’. That point of definition was set many years ago. A 65-year-old driver 20 years ago is nothing like a current one.”