From a police perspective, the recent road accident involving HRH Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh and two women with a baby has had one quite singular and beneficial effect. It’s highlighted the dangers elderly drivers and those around them face.
Let’s recap the facts. The 97 year Duke was at the wheel just before 3pm on Thursday 17th January when he turned his Land Rover from a side road onto the busy A147 near the Sandringham estate and collided with a Kia. According to press reports his heavy 4×4 was “T-boned” and flipped onto its side.
Royal cars are routinely strengthened and often armoured. The Duke was uninjured. The small Korean made car with its three occupants ended up in a ditch.
Norfolk Constabulary confirmed the 28 year old female Kia driver suffered cuts to her knees and her 45 year old female front passenger a broken wrist. Thankfully the 9 month old boy in the rear was unhurt.
Phillip was heard to say after the accident “I’m such a fool”.
The reasons for the accident have been the subject of much press attention and endless speculation due to the involvement of a member of the Royal Family.
There’s also the spectre of legal action for the Duke.
48 hours later he was given “words of advice” by an officer for driving without his seatbelt fastened in a replacement car. The Queen was also spotted doing the same thing.
For those of us with elderly relations still driving this is all too familiar – and worrying.
At the front desk of my local nick recently a man reported to me the registration number of a car he’d just seen driving the wrong way on a roundabout.
The witness told me “His relations should have dealt with this before. He’s going to kill someone.” I passed the information immediately on to our DVLA liaison officer. I think you can work out what happened next.
If you’ve an elderly parent who drives, these incidents will bring a reminder of the dangers involved behind the wheel when health and senses inevitably deteriorate. It unfortunately comes to us all.
Legally in the UK, there’s no fixed age at which you’re obliged to stop driving but licences at the age of 70 must be renewed every three years. It’s also a legal obligation whatever your age to declare certain health conditions to the DVLA.
Some have suggested those over 70 should re-take their driving test, a challenge at any age. For a minority this might be a greater problem. Poppy Patmore’s mother, as a war-time ambulance driver, was never required to take a test in the first place! Would she pass now?
The system for every driver relies on us being honest about our health status. Many would argue it’s also a moral responsibility.
This was quite a problem until 2017 when GPs were required to routinely inform the DVLA if patients continued to drive against medical advice.
One chap admitted to me recently he had early stage dementia whilst complaining about imminently losing his licence. I told him to accept the medical advice and stop driving. I suspect his family backed the doctor – but sometimes it takes a uniform to hammer the message home.
If you’re in an accident and haven’t told them of your health condition, your insurance company are unlikely to cover you. Legally you can then be prosecuted and fined up to £1000.
The DVLA require you to be able to read (with glasses or contact lenses if necessary) a car number plate made after 1st Sept 2001 from 20 metres or 65ft away.
This is the test Prince Philip took following his accident. He passed. He was also breathalysed at the scene and blew negative.
But as anyone who drives in the middle of a weekday will tell you there are folk out there who should not be driving. We’ve all been behind them or had them pull out in front of us. Are they one of your family?
On the one hand you may think they’re safe. After all they’ve been driving for decades. They know the score.
So did my father when the bat signal went up from my mother after he pulled out of a junction and was hit in a very similar accident.
I went to collect him from the crash scene shocked, silent, shameful – but thankfully uninjured. He’d been driving daily for over 50 years. They took his licence.
So what do you do?
The law places the responsibility for acting correctly and legally firmly in the lap of the driver behind the wheel. The police will enforce this every time.
However, as many media commentators have recently noted convincing an elderly person to hang up their keys is a big ask.
When having that conversation, one of the plus points for your loved one is the cost saving. Taking away the yoke of car tax, insurance, annual MOT’s, fuel, tyres and maintenance makes a big difference to anyone’s purse, especially a pensioner.
But no-one denies public transport is a mess in the UK and particularly in rural areas. Plus the older you get the harder it is to walk to the bus stop and wait.
Cost and inconvenience aside, perhaps the most persuasive argument to get an elderly person to stop driving is to get them to accept the simple, stark reality which faced Philip when he was helped from his car.
They could kill someone.
The Duke is retired and no longer undertakes public duties but he still wants to drive. If he wants to continue this requires him to set an example. This is something he signed up for when he married his wife.
He’s a proud man but I suspect his wife may have privately reminded him of his responsibility. Something he knows a lot about. Did he listen? I hope so.
Whatever stage your driving elderly loved one is at, my professional advice is to sit them down and have that conversation.
Now would be a good time.