Split views on extra driving tests for senior citizens

By THE STAR | 22 February 2015

PETALING JAYA: An 80-year-old taxi driver is missing, a 61-year-old women crashes into a convenience store and a 70-year-old man slams into a bank.

Which leads us to the question - should senior citizens go for a retest and mandatory medical check-ups to ensure that they are fit to drive?

Other countries such as Singapore, the UK and Australia have introduced similar tests.

Taxi driver Nordin Mohd Som, 68, said a retest is good for all quarters and urged senior citizens to take an open view if a retest is implemented for them.

“A retest is for our own good and also for everybody’s good. I do not know if other drivers would accept it but if you ask me, it is a good move to implement.

“There are some drivers who are really experienced and good but at the end of the day, whether you are experienced or not, the slightest of errors can be fatal. They can minimise that by going for a retest,” said Nordin.

On Jan 18, an honest mistake sent the car of a 70-year-old man crashing into a bank in Damansara Uptown on Sunday evening, shattering glass panels before hitting a wall next to the bank’s ATMs.

Two days later, an 80-year-old taxi driver, who has 20 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, went missing in Kajang together with his vehicle.

On Feb 3, a 61-year-old woman escaped unhurt when the vehicle she was travelling in crashed into the convenience store of a petrol station in Jalan PJU 1A/20.

Nordin urged the authorities to conduct new driving exams alongside thorough medical tests for drivers who have exceeded the age of 60.

“I have a friend who is 75 and still drives a taxi. He goes for medical check-ups to ensure he is fit to drive.

“Thus, I urge the authorities to have mandatory medical check-ups for all drivers especially the senior citizens. A psychology test should also be conducted to ensure they are mentally alert at all times,” said Nordin

Road Safety Department director-general Datuk Dr Tam Weng Wah on the other hand believes that age should not be used as criteria to retest drivers.

“It would be better if drivers who regularly commit traffic offences be retrained and retested as a form of rehabilitation. Using age as a criteria is quite subjective as it depends on individuals.

“As long as the drivers are healthy and fit to drive, they should be allowed to.

However, we feel there might be a need for greater education and advisory on what aged drivers should be aware of,” said Dr Tan.

Some 556 people over the age of 60 died due to road accidents in 2013; according to statistics compiled by the Bukit Aman traffic police division.

Approximately 11% of the 5, 213 deaths recorded were from the ages of 61 and above and it increased by 7% compared to 2012.

In Singapore, drivers aged 65 and above will need to undergo an annual medical examination to be done by a Singapore registered medical practitioner in Singapore.

According to the Singapore Traffic Police website, once they are certified fit to drive the particular class of vehicle, they will need to undergo a proficiency driving test and if they pass the test, their driving licence will be validated.

In the United Kingdom all drivers have to renew their driving licence when they reach the age of 70 and every three years from then on.

Completing the renewal form means that they make a self-declaration, using their own judgement to state that they are still fit to drive. They do not need to go through a retest or medical test when they renew their licence.

In South Australia, if you are 85 years of age or older and hold a class of licence other than a 'car' you will need to pass a practical driving test each year to retain that class of licence.

According to Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros), so far there is no research or review had been conducted specifically to fitness to drive among elder driver.

However, their crash injury sciences and prevention unit (CRIS-P) had evaluated the frequency of medical examination as a precondition for licensing of Commercial vehicle drivers in Malaysia in 2009.

“This evaluation recommended that different frequency of medical check-up for age below 45 years old and 45 years old & above with regards to medical status.

“However, this requirement specifically meant for the commercial vehicle drivers group,” Miros told The Star Online.

Miros director-general Prof Dr Wong Shaw Voon said that fitness to drive is very important and if the authorities implement medical tests or retests, he would welcome the initiative.

“Private car drivers should go for medical checkups and it is important for proper screening. This is to ensure that they are safe on the roads and they do not endanger others,”

However, if it is implemented, it will cause an impact on the social economy and the authorities will have to study it well before going ahead with the initiative.

“We must make sure there must be a good outcome at the end of this initiative. Planning is important as we do not want it to affect the society and the country,” said Dr Wong.

The need to make a proper cognitive assessment on a senior citizen is needed to ensure that he is fit to drive, says Consultant Psychologist Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj.

“Obviously eye sight needs to be tested, muscle strength to ensure proper motor functions like applying the right amount of brake pressure,”

He said from a psychological perspective, there must also be a proper information processing and right reactive time to ensure integration of memory, visual and motor functions.

“In older persons, in addition to the normal physical and visual tests, there is a need to make a proper cognitive assessment.

“In older people with features of dementia, there may be deficits in orientation and in memory as in retention and recall of information. This can lead to hazardous driving, resulting in road accidents.

“A driver with Alzheimer's dementia may exhibit sudden irritability and anger leading to violent behaviour on the road,” said Dr Mohanraj.

Some senior citizen drivers believe that a thorough physical and mental test would suffice for them.

Yassin Hamzah, 64, said that at their age, they would go through some emotional stress and so on but most of his friends have no problems driving.

“Instead of a retest, an awareness campaign should be done to ensure that they maintain their focus. Family members should also monitor them.

“If they are 80% not fit to drive, then they should stop them driving. A medical check-up would help and authorities should have annual checkups for them,” said the retiree.

However, if the driver has to bear the cost of the check-up, then Yassin is afraid that some might be reluctant to do it.

“If they can bear the cost, then it would be good for all of us,”

Zahir Abdullah, 70, said that if a retest was done, they would have fork out extra money just to ensure that they can continue driving. He said, regardless of age, anyone is prone to lapses of concentration.

“Let me give a scenario… Would you prefer to follow a 21-year-old guy who is not sober or a 70-year-old man who had a good rest? For me age is not a factor, it is how you carry yourself that matters.

“What the authorities should do is have an eye-test for people above 60 and also see if they are fit to drive, mentally and physically. Those checkups are more important than a retest.

“Imagine an old chap going through the whole process of a test. They would not fancy that,” said the former teacher.