Oldies' driving ambition can be costly
A SPATE of car accidents from spectacular creek plunges to carpark collisions that cost limbs has raised the question of whether some licensed drivers are just too old to be safely behind the wheel.
Now it has been revealed that some older drivers have been “doctor shopping” to keep their licence.
Following the recent accidents, the Sunshine Coast Daily asked whether authorities should again look at the way elderly drivers retained their licences.
A Transport and Main Roads spokesman said the law stated that drivers who were 75 years or older must hold a medical certificate, which they must carry at all times, stating they are medically fit to continue to drive.
“If a doctor has recommended limitations or conditions are to apply to you when driving, your medical certificate will state those conditions (and) you must abide by these conditions when driving,” the spokesman said.
“A doctor will decide how long each certificate will last by taking into account the nature of any medical condition and how often they need to monitor the patient’s progress.”
Sunshine Coast locals Alan Carpenter and Alan Moore, 82, abide by these laws.
Buderim resident Mr Carpenter said he had been driving without problems for years as he followed the legislation.
The same goes for Mr Moore – who has been driving every day since he got his licence at 21 years of age.
“I’m still driving but I have to wear glasses … so I make sure I wear them,” he said.
The Buderim resident believes the law should not be changed – grey nomads just need to start following it.
“They’re supposed to have an annual medical check-up. You can’t go much harder than that,” he said.
“I think a lot of these people, particularly some of the men, won’t report their sickness to a doctor in fear of being prevented from having a licence.”
When asked about doctor shopping, he said “I haven’t heard of it happening but I can imagine it happening because none of us like to give up our licence”.
“There are rules there and people should adhere to them,” he said.
“I’m fortunate with my health but if I wasn’t I wouldn’t drive.”
But local AMA spokesperson and Sunshine Coast medical association president Mason Stevenson said some drivers were not so honest about their health.
“Some decide to doctor shop in order to circumvent the usual GP’s opinion on the matter, which is the best person to make the decision,” he said.
“This is why the medical authorisation certificate was changed to specifically ask if the doctor is familiar with the patient’s medical history or not in an attempt to stop doctor shopping.”
Mr Stevenson said drivers aged 80 years or over were a concern.
“In New South Wales, there is an insistence that all 80-year-olds perform a supervised driving test – many of whom fail,” he said.
“The real concern, especially from age 80 onwards, is fragility due to advanced osteoarthritis and or dementia, with 20% of Australian citizens in their 80s suffering from dementia and at least an equal number suffering from fragility.”
Mr Stevenson said elderly drivers made mistakes as a result of such diseases.
“Slow or dangerous driving can occur and reaction time can most certainly be too slow for the circumstances,” he said.
But Mr Stevenson said the age did not need to be lowered, rather the laws adhered to.
“Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the patient to notify a doctor of any new medical complaint that may impact on their drivability,” he said.
“(Also,) it is more important that doctors make a critical appraisal and a serious undertaking when it comes to medical risk and drivability.”
Several incidents have happened recently involving drivers aged in their 80s.
An elderly woman’s vehicle ended up in Cornmeal Creek, Maroochydore after she hit the accelerator instead of the brake when coming out of the Big Top Shopping Centre earlier this year.
Two people suffered injuries after an elderly male driver struck them in the Caloundra RSL underground carpark a few months ago.
Most recently, a woman lost part of her leg in a carpark accident on Brisbane’s northside after an elderly male driver lost control of his car.