Recent tragedies have shown we can’t rely on older people to inform the DVLA themselves if they are not fit to drive.
In 2012 Desreen Brooks was walking in Hampstead with her husband Ben Brooks-Dutton and her 2 year old son Jackson when a driver mounted the pavement and killed her. The driver, aged 82, had mistaken the accelerator for the break and was driving at 54mph in a 20mph zone. He was convicted of causing Desreen’s death by dangerous driving and in sentencing him the judge said “an elderly driver who knows, or should acknowledge, that he or she is losing his or her faculties is no less a danger than a drunken driver who knows the same.”
In 2016 3 year old Poppy-Arabella Clarke was killed and her mother Rachel was seriously injured when they were hit by an older driver as they crossed the road during a red traffic light in Chester Road in Birmingham. At the time the green light was flashing for pedestrians to cross. The driver had been told to stop driving because of his poor eyesight a few weeks before the incident. He was not wearing his glasses and he said he had not seen the red light or the crossing. He admitted causing death by dangerous driving and causing serious injury by dangerous driving.
In many cases people may not recognise their symptoms or a gradual deterioration in their health, for example those suffering with dementia.
There are more older people and more drivers than ever so this is not going to be a problem which is just going to go away.
I’ve written to the Secretary of State for Transport and the Chair of the Transport Select Committee asking for them to look into a solution for this problem. One of the things that I’ve proposed is that people over the age of 75 should only be able to renew their licence if they can produce a GP certificate that shows they continue to be fit to drive – and if they don’t produce the certificate then their driving licence would lapse.(If this was the case it would also have the additional advantage of being an incentive for people to take up their free annual health checks when they are over 75).
Of course GPs need to be properly resourced to do their existing work let alone take on any extra responsibilities. But it is important to think about how we can address what is a growing problem.
Harriet Harman is MP for Camberwell and Peckham, and is a former leader of the Opposition and shadow health secretary