If you are at least 74 years old, an AA member and hold a valid driver licence, you will be valid for a free coaching session to help keep you confident and safe behind the wheel. It is a way to check safe driving skills and road rule knowledge (as advertising recently in the AA magazine and on their website). This is one of several recent initiatives aimed at the safety of older drivers – a growing segment of road users in New Zealand.
Another is a 45-page booklet “The road ahead: Transport options for seniors”. published by the NZ Transport Agency (updated edition February 2019).
I have found both sources informative and valuable. I booked a coaching session through 0800 223 748 (aa.co.nz/senior-driver). A friendly AA driving instructor came to my home for a session which took about 45 minutes. First, we sat in the car to ensure it was correctly set up for me as the driver and I outlined my driving concerns – such as right turns into traffic as I emerge from my garage. Then I drove around my local area – on a route of my choice – pointing out where I have difficulty. We talked about “blind spots”, signalling, hazard identification and positioning on the road. After the drive we had a review and I seem to have scored well. I was even congratulated on driving a manual car, which is becoming much less common.
I am apparently eligible for a free coaching session every two years, so I encourage other older drivers to take advantage of this offer. It would be a splendid preparation for people who are obliged to complete an official on-road safety test to renew their licences.
Which brings me to the NZTA booklet.
This is well produced with large fonts and useful illustrations, for example of give-way rules. After questions to self-check driving ability, there are tips for safe driving and keeping up with the road code.
In New Zealand, a driver licence is valid in periods of ten years up to the age of 75. After this, a licence is valid for five years, then must be renewed every two years over the age of 80. At each renewal a medical certificate from a health practitioner is needed, which includes an eye-sight test.
This is not a straight pass-fail as some people may think.
After completing a clinical assessment, the GP may recommend one of the following:
- The patient is medically fit to drive and does not require further assessment.
- The patient is medically fit to drive with specified conditions.
- The patient is medically fit to drive but an on-road safety test with a testing officer is recommended.
- The patient needs further assessment before they can be deemed medically fit to drive (the patient may be referred for specialist medical assessment or to an occupational therapist for driving assessment).
- The patient is not medically fit to drive.
GPs may recommend that conditions are imposed on a driver’s licence to improve safety such as:
- using only an automatic vehicle,
- no night driving,
- driving only within 10 kilometres of home,
- driving only after 9.00 a.m. and before 3.00 p.m.
Older age itself is not a barrier to driving – there are thousands of licence holders in New Zealand aged over 90. However, medical conditions that can affect safe driving increase with age, e.g. dementia, stroke and cardiovascular disease. Other age-related factors that may impair driving include earlier onset of fatigue, slowed responses, visual problems, impaired cognitive function and impaired mobility.
So, take up the opportunities offered,
Age Concern New Zealand recently secured the NZTA national contract to deliver free “Staying Safe” driver education refresher courses across New Zealand. Check with your nearest Age Concern to see when the next course is running!http://www.ageconcern.org.nz