ANNUAL medical tests for drivers aged 70 and over will be scrapped to encourage older people to remain active in the community and because evidence shows they do not lower crash rates.
The State Government move follows research that shows Victoria, which does not have age-based testing, has a crash rate similar to South Australia and New South Wales, and lower than the crash rate in all other states.
Health and Ageing Minister Jack Snelling said removing the mandatory testing age was a key part of SA’s Ageing Plan, which aims to support older residents to be more active and engaged in the community.
“Compared to other states and territories across Australia, South Australia has the youngest age for a mandatory medical check, despite having the oldest mainland population,” Mr Snelling said.
“While some jurisdictions have compulsory medical testing for drivers at 75 and 80 years of age, there are some who do not have aged-based testing at all and that is what South Australia will move to from September 1, 2014.
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“Age-based testing has not been demonstrated to reduce crash rates for older drivers. Age-based testing has, however, been found to prompt some older drivers to cease driving, which in turn reduces their social interaction and engagement in the community.”
Transport Department figures show there are about 117,000 drivers aged 70 and older, and this number will soar as more Baby Boomers age.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows in 2012 there were about 185,000 South Australians aged 70 and older, the majority living independently. This is projected to rise to between 247,000 and 269,000 by 2023.
Mr Snelling said ensuring the safety of the public was paramount and the change would not impact on current licence requirements for people with medical conditions and disabilities.
Health practitioners will still be required to notify the Registrar of Motor Vehicles any time they consider a driver or a driver’s licence applicant is temporarily or permanently unfit to drive, regardless of age.
“South Australia has a growing number of older people, with 35 per cent of South Australians aged over 50,” Mr Snelling said. “People are living longer and fuller lives and we need to have more relevant policies that do not discriminate by age and support our older population.”
A working group of key groups, such as the RAA and Australian Medial Association, chaired by retired District Court Judge Alan Moss, will examine options for older drivers to ensure road safety is not affected by the change.
It may consider jurisdictions, such as NSW, where drivers aged 85 and older have to sit a practical driving test every two years, and WA, where drivers aged 85 and older have to sit a practical test if it is recommended by a doctor.
In September, The Advertiser revealed almost 40 elderly drivers were being banned from the roads each week after failing their annual vision and medical assessment.
Transport Department figures show 2016 motorists aged 70 or older had their licence suspended in 2012-13 for a medical reason or for not returning a Certificate of Fitness.
That figure was up from 1541 the previous year and 1416 in 2010-11. Another 816 drivers aged 70 or older had a condition placed on their licence last financial year, up from 645 in 2011-12 and 381 in 2010-11.
Of the 96 fatalities on SA roads so far this year, there were 24 people aged 70 and older.
Council on the Ageing SA executive director Ian Yates warmly welcomed the move as a positive development.
“In most businesses it is illegal to discriminate based on age,” he said.
“There are lots of people aged 70 and above still happily in the workforce, active in the community and independent, and transport is a big part of that … People of an older age are more youthful than people of previous generations 70 is the new 50.
“Obviously it is important that people who can’t drive safely for medical reasons do not do so, but that can happen well before 70 or it can occur very much later in life than 70. We are trying to move away from judgments based purely on age.“