Should drivers over the age of 70 be banned? And is 17 too young to start?

Some 10% of people think elderly drivers should be forced to stop; I say that's too draconian

With new rules coming into play for young drivers and the theory test recently updated to become more accessible, USwitch decided to explore how Brits feel about the current driving age limits in the UK, and whether they think we need to increase from 17. The study also explored how Brits feel towards drivers aged over 70, who currently do not have to undergo any medical tests to prove they are fit to drive.

Some key findings:

  • Almost a quarter of Brits think the driving age limit should be increased to 18; one-in-five think the driving age should be raised to 21.
  • More than a third say drivers over 70 should have to prove they are fit to drive; 10% of people think drivers over the age of 70 should be banned from driving completely.

The UK driving theory test has recently undergone some major changes, as the existing written exam has now been replaced with a more visual approach, in a bid to make it more accessible and modern.

With driving tests frequently being updated, data from GOV.UK indicates theory test pass rates have plummeted in recent years, now at just 49.1% in comparison with 51.6% in 2014. Practical pass rates are also at an all -time low, with just 47.1% of learners passing first time.

As both tests become seemingly more difficult to pass, Uswitch surveyed 1,000 Brits to find out whether they think we should raise the age limit for drivers, and whether elderly drivers should be required to retake their test.

Almost half of Brits think the UK driving age limit should be raised

Despite young drivers having higher first-time pass rates, it doesn’t mean they are safer. In fact, research shows 23% of young drivers are involved in a road incident within two years of passing their test.

When asked about the current age limit in place, almost half of Brits think the age limit should be raised, saying 17 is too young to take a driving test.

Almost a quarter of those asked (22.76%) said the legal driving age should be increased to 18, while 20.46% think it should be further restricted to 21. Some 46% of those over the age of 35 were in favour of this, in comparison to just a tenth of those aged 16-24. What a surprise. Wonder how many of them passed the test at 17 and are now in the ‘I’m all right Jack’ seat?

In the majority of European countries, the driving age limit is 18, with the UK, Germany, Slovakia, Italy and Denmark among the countries where the limit is 17. In some American states it is possible to drive aged 16.

The driving age in France is shockingly low at just 15. However, not many Brits think this should be applied in the UK, with just 6.29% in favour of it being decreased.

Should elderly drivers be required to retake their driving tests?

While elderly learners are least likely to pass first time, there’s no evidence to suggest they are more likely to have an accident on the road.

However, as most people age, general health and fitness, eyesight, hearing, reaction times and physical mobility will begin to deteriorate. For example, tests have shown that reaction time in response to hazards increases with age, which can have a huge impact when driving.

Currently, after the age of 70, drivers are legally required to renew their license every three years. This, however, is a simple process and no further tests take place.

When asked if they agree with the current requirements, our study shows more than a third (39.3%) of Brits think drivers should be legally obliged to have a medical examination to ensure they are fit to drive. Interestingly, 40.1% of participants over the age of 55 want this measure to be put in place, in comparison to 32.8% of those aged 16-24, suggesting older drivers are warier of those over 70 and their potential risk on the road.

Alongside this, 22.66% revealed that they think elderly should have to retake their theory test every few years to prove they are able to quickly spot a hazard. For the second time, it’s those over the age of 55 who are most in favour of this, with one quarter agreeing it should be required.

Shockingly, almost 10% of participants revealed they think drivers over the age of 70 should be banned from driving completely, as the risk they impose on the road is too high. Those under the age of 35 were most in favour of this, in comparison to just 4% of those over 55.

Time for me to climb down off the fence, I think. Given that 70 lies just a few years distant for me I hope you will understand that a total ban on those 70+ is an anathema. Such a move, particularly in a heavily rural county like Kent, would leave too many people stuck in their immediate environment. Sorry, but the buses are not up to filling the gap if the elderly can no longer take to their car.

That said, the concept of needing to re-prove one’s driving ability is much more acceptable. No right-thinking person would want to risk hurting others or causing damage and sometimes people need to be protected from themselves. I see no harm in challenging those who feel confident that they are ‘perfectly fit’ to drive. If you are fit, where’s the harm in proving it? If you are not fit, better to know before something uptoward happens.

Personally, I’m hoping to stay fit enough to drive until these full autonomous cars have been perfected (well, as close to perfect as is possible) so I can continue to be driven around in one – if that’s allowed, of course.

On the subject of changing the age you can start to drive at, consider this. Are young drivers more prone to accidents and the like because they are inexperienced in life, or inexperienced behind the steering wheel? If the reason is the former, then switching to 18 is unlikely to have a significant impact; it would need to be 21. If the latter, then age is immaterial. If you pass your test at the age of 30, you will still be inexperienced during the first year of driving. I don’t think a change is required. If you are old enough at 17 to earn a living, why shouldn’t you have the option of a car to take you to your work?

While there’s no maximum age limit on driving in the UK, all drivers are obliged to report any health concerns to the DVLA. Elderly drivers are also advised to use their own judgement to assess whether they feel fit to drive, and to avoid getting behind the wheel if they think their health could impact their ability.

How does your age impact insurance?

While both young and elderly drivers are often scrutinised on their driving abilities, it’s younger drivers who face higher costs when it comes to car insurance.

Uswitch car insurance expert, Florence Codjoe, says: “Insurance for young drivers is typically high because they’re less experienced on the road, and are statistically more likely to be involved in an accident than older drivers. However, having a black box installed and choosing a car that’s cheaper to insure can significantly help reduce your premiums.

“All cars fall under an insurance group of between one and 50. Group one cars are the cheapest to insure, while group 50 are the most expensive. So, if you’re yet to buy your car, doing plenty of research beforehand could really pay off. Cars with lower engine capacity can also be cheaper to insure, not to mention, they are better for the environment.”

For older drivers, insurance premiums can be much cheaper, however it’s important you know the rules on renewing your licence once you reach 70, otherwise you could invalidate your insurance if you let it expire.

Our expert added: “This year, due to COVID-19, anyone over the age of 70 with a licence due for renewal any time from February 1, 2020 will have the validity of their current plastic photocard extended by 11 months – therefore into 2021.

“All drivers, regardless of age, must notify the DVLA of the onset or worsening of a medical condition which may affect the ability to drive safely. It’s also illegal to drive if you can’t read a number plate from 20.5 metres away – so if you wear glasses, make sure your prescription is up to date.”

You can see the full breakdown of statistics here.

Show More

David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past publications worked for include the South-East London Mercury*, Kent Messenger, Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor for an East Midlands-based publishing group.

Related Articles