Should senior citizens be screened when renewing their driving licence?

Should senior citizens be screened when renewing their driving licence?

Proposal comes to fore after recent spate of accidents involving the elderly.

OVER the last two months, there were at least five accidents involving senior citizens, including fatal ones. Following these incidents, The Vibes spoke to several Malaysians to get their views on whether senior citizens should undergo special screening before getting their licence renewed.

While most felt there should not be any restrictions on the elderly getting behind the wheel, there were those who thought that the situation depended on their medical conditions. Ahmad Marzuki, 38, a lecturer, said his father had stopped driving at the age of 65 as his eyesight was deteriorating and he found it difficult to gauge things.

“We stopped my father from driving for his safety and also for other road users. “However, not all elderly suffer from the same situation. Some are fit and even drive better than us,” he said.

Ravi Naidu, 44, a dentist, said while there should not be any restrictions on the elderly being allowed to drive, the onus was on the family. “If the family members know their parents or grandparents are suffering from some medical condition and are not fit to drive, then they should not be allowed to do so.

“However, we must not forget that Malaysia is an ageing society and many elderly are left alone to fend for themselves. “Even some of our cab drivers are old, but have no choice as they have to fend for themselves,” he said.

Engineer Chow Meng Yen, 50, agreed with Ravi, saying that many old men and women have no choice but to get on the road by themselves. “Yes, though many have children, they live alone and, also, they want to be independent.

“However, I feel it would be a good idea to have some kind of screening as we must take into account the safety of other road users,” he said. Teresa Ng, 45, said she faced a situation where an elderly woman rammed into her car parked outside her house in Subang Jaya.

“It happened on a weekend when we were all home. This aunty smashed into my car, knocking it into a drain next to where I had parked. “Luckily, she was unhurt, and it turned out later that she was on medication and had fallen asleep while driving,” she said.

She said that while there is no intention to discriminate against the elderly, it is a safety concern which affects all road users.

At present, in Malaysia, there are generally no medical tests needed or age-related restrictions for driving licences to be renewed, and the licence validity period can be chosen from between one and five years.

Recent crashes involving the elderly

On October 6, two elderly men were killed when their four-wheel-drive vehicle crashed into the back of a trailer at KM365 northbound on the North-South Expressway near Slim River. Perak Fire and Rescue Department operations centre officer-in-charge Faiezaruddin Mohd Yusop said the victims, aged 83 and 76 years old, died on the spot during the incident at about 5.40am.

On October 15, an elderly man was injured when his car crashed into a lottery outlet in Taman Molek in Johor. In the 3pm incident, the 65-year-old man was believed to have accidentally stepped on the accelerator pedal of his car, crashing into the place and injuring a worker.

On November 22, an elderly female driver accidentally crashed her car into a kopitiam at a Chinese new village in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, leaving two people injured. According to witnesses, the female driver and her friends had arrived at the kopitiam for breakfast.

However, as she attempted to park the vehicle, she suddenly felt dizzy and mistakenly stepped on the accelerator, causing the car to crash into the kopitiam. On November 24, a 70-year-old man crashed his car into a kopitiam in Bahau, Negri Sembilan.

The car driven by the man crashed right into the premises and several customers at about 8am. Lastly, on November 27, four men on motorcycles were injured when a 60-year-old woman crashed her car into them after losing control.

The incident occurred at about 3pm near Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in George Town.

Two years ago, Bukit Aman’s Traffic Investigation and Enforcement Department called for Malaysian regulations to be changed so that senior citizens have to undergo some form of screening before getting their driving licence renewed.

The department explained that poor health is one of the causes of road accidents, with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and deteriorating eyesight being common problems. And there have indeed been recent cases of elderly drivers driving against the flow of traffic.

However, several groups objected to this proposal, saying that no statistics showed that the elderly are among the highest contributors to road accidents in the country.

Eventually, following an uproar, mostly from senior citizens, then Transport Minister Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong said that any related policy change must be handled with a systematic, evidence-based approach, and needed to be treated with foresight.

He said that simply refusing a driver the means to drive based on their age or based on isolated and anecdotal evidence would be discriminatory because many drivers far over 70 display greater competence in driving compared to their younger peers for any number of reasons.

Even former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, notably one of the oldest drivers in the country, said one’s ability is not tied to age.

“These days, we find that many elderly people are still active, can still think and can perform tasks such as driving a car. Nothing is troubling me, I can still drive. My vision is still OK, my hearing is OK, I can see the road and there’s no problem in me driving a car anywhere,” he said then.

Driving regulations around the world

Recognised as among the countries with the world’s oldest populations, Japan requires all those above 75 to undergo a cognitive test when renewing their licence. Anyone suspected of dementia will then have to undergo a medical checkup.

In Singapore, anyone who is 65 years old will need to undergo a medical examination by a doctor and they need to do this every three years to get their licence renewed. Regardless of age, in Indonesia, everyone needs to take a vision test when renewing their licence every five years.

For Europe, drivers will be asked to declare that they are healthy enough to drive and their vision meets the minimum requirement. However, this requirement varies and some European countries, like the Netherlands, require drivers above 70 to undergo a medical test every five years.

– The Vibes, November 5, 2023

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