Saving Lives. We need stricter rules for aging drivers who are 75+ years old

Saving Lives. We need stricter rules for aging drivers who are 75+ years old

42 have signed. Let’s get to 50!
Petition to
Mark Bailey (Queensland Minister of Transport and Main Roads) and

Why this petition matters

Started by Ron Janjua

It's time to figure out a more responsible way of managing elderly Australian drivers as they enter their later years and continue to drive their cars on roads, because the current way its being done is costing lives, causing a lot of pain and grief, making our roads unsafe, and burdening the healthcare system.

So why did I start this petition?   Well the issue really struck home a year ago today.  On April 3rd 2021, I was on my motorycle, enjoying a weekend trip away with friends and travelling down a neighborhood road in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales Australia, when a female driver over 90 years old, coming the other way, barely able to see over the steering wheel, and confused about what driveway she wanted to go into, suddenly cut across my path without looking, and hitting my front wheel.  I was doing 50kph.  She was likely doing about 20-30kph.    I had zero time to react, and me and my 1000 cc heavy motorcycle were thrown onto the hood of her car. 

My body smashed into her hood and windscreen, and then 'rag dolled' up in the air about 3 meters and landed past the car on the roadside.  My bike flew up in the air and landed on the back of the car and then onto the road and was unrecognisable. 

I remember the car hitting my front wheel and waking up on the roadside but nothing in between.  It's funny to say this but I was lucky.   I was lucky that my friend was with me, who called emergency services, and got the paramedics there fast.   He told me later that he thought I was dead for sure when the impact happened.   I was lucky that I didnt hit the car differently.  I was lucky that I'm not permanently disabled or dead, leaving my wife and my family without me.  I was wearing all the right gear, including a good helmet, and so I didnt suffer any head injuries, or road rash, or any cuts, but internally it was a different story.   

The road got closed off and there were over 10 emergency personel arriving including firetrucks, police cars, and 2 ambulances.   When the paramedics got to me they decided that my injuries were so bad they put me onto a backboard, loaded me into a helicopter that they landed in a field nearby. They flew me to the trauma unit in Sydney, where I was scanned head to toe.  I ended up with a spiral fracture of my right femur just below my hip, 7 broken ribs, a concussion, tissue damage to my neck, damage to the ligaments of my left shoulder, and right knee, and blood clots in my lungs.   

The paramedics, helicopter pilots medical team of over 10 people were amazing.  The facility was state of the art.  When I got to the hospital, I was slid into CT scanners, and MRI machines so many times I lost count.  I am lucky I was in Australia, that there was a helicopter nearby, and I was within reach of such a good facility.   

My wife rushed to the hospital thinking I may be dead, and stood by my side while they worked on me and for the weeks I was stuck there.  The day after the accident, I was in surgery for 5 hours while they installed a titanium rod into my femur to put it back together so it could heal.  They also opened up my knee to clean it out and look around.  I had another surgery on my knee 3 days later, and then I lay in a hospital bed covered in tubes, and lines to monitors, getting very strong pain meds, along with handfuls of other pills.  I needed blood transfusions because my red blood cell count got dangerously low.  I was monitored to make sure the blood clots in my lungs didnt give me a stroke.  I was checked on hourly  by the amazing nurses.  I had daily consults from surgeons of a few different specialites for my entire time there.  All up I was in the hospital for 5.5 weeks before I could go home in a wheelchair.   I shudder to think how much all this cost the public health care system.  I'm lucky I was in Australia with a public healthcare system instead of the US when this happened.  

I've been off work and spent the past year learning how to walk again.  I'm lucky in that I'm supposed to mostly recover.  I won't be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I don't have any brain damage, I haven't permanently lost the use of any body parts and they say I'll be back a full range of motion eventually as long as i keep up with the 2x a week physiotherpay, exercises at home and mental focus.  Its been tough but I've gotten through the worst of it.   I'm lucky I didn't end up like 6 year old Indie Armstrong when she was struck and killed by an 86 year old driver in a Queensland parking lot a few years ago, or like so many others that have had their lives drastically affected because an elderly driver slipped through the very big cracks in the system. 

When I was in the hospital, I started to learn about what happened, and found out that the woman who hit me with her car was over 90 years old!   I found out that the police officer on the scene was very angry that she somehow still had her drivers license and was still driving at her age and abilities.    

I was angry as well.  Not so much at the old woman, because I also have elderly parents and I know what its like to watch them struggle with mental and physical decline, and losing their independance.  I was more angry that she was allowed to drive by the the system that should be making sure that our roads are safe.   I was angry at her doctor who let her continue to drive and simply filled in a form for her year after year well into her 90's.   Didn't he think he was facilitating a serious accident and endangering other people's lives?  The reality is, if she didnt hit me she would have eventually ended up hitting and perhaps killing someone else. Maybe a child, maybe a parent, maybe a young couple.  She SHOULDN'T have been on the road. 

By the way, the driver that hit me didn't get off easily. Her life got turned upside down as well.  She was charged criminally with 'careless use of a motor vehicle causing grievous bodily harm.'  That's not a simple traffic fine.  It results in a criminal record.  She had to go to court and stand in front of a judge beside other criminals and plead guilty.  She was given a 2 year prison sentence which was suspended due to her age, so she now has a criminal record.  I never had a chance to speak to her but I am told she was also very sorrowful, shaken and traumatised at what she had done.    Her car was a complete write off, and she ended her great driving record with a very big black mark.   I don't think she will drive again, but its too little too late.  This all could have been prevented if the system was better designed. 

I am still angry and shocked at a drivers licensing system that allows people of that age to continue renewing their licenses with very little testing, oversight, regulation or monitoring, where they can drive around in a 2 tonne hunks of metal putting others and themselves at risk.   

As I lay in the hospital bed, I kept asking why we constantly hear about road safety, and responsible driving, with focus on drink driving, which impairs driver vision and reaction time, or hoons, or speeding, or cell phones, which is all about making sure people behind the wheel have all their senses about them, but we typically skip over this very real risk?  Why aren't elderly drivers  managed and governed better for everyone's sake? 

I found out that in NSW, there is some basic questioning of a drivers abilities as they age, but its the family doctor that is the one that decides if the person can continue to be out on the road in charge of a deadly machine.  If an elderly person wants to renew their license, they simply get their doctor to fill in a form and present that to the transport office.  That's it.  Aside from a vision test in some states, there is no specific requirement for a road test (except NSW where drivers have to do one every 2 years) to check reaction time, no mental accuity test, etc.    

I also found out that lots of doctors don't like to take licenses away from their patients.  They often think of how it will take away their patient's independence.  They usually know their patients for a long time and have a fondness for them, and know a lot about their lives, including treating a few generations of the same family. 

Taking a license away from an elderly patient can also be bad for business.  We are now in a time where we have a larger aging population, where baby boomers are all getting to retirement age and into their 80's.  Doctors need patients to make a living, and if the community finds out that a particular physician is known for taking away licenses of their patients, or making it much harder to keep driving, Patients will go elswhere and business will slow down.  In fact an ABC article from 2018 talks about elderly patients 'doctor shopping' to make sure they don't get their licenses taken away.   (see ) This is the definition of gaming a weak system. 

Doctors have to be careful about alienating their patient base.  Children of elderly parents can get angry, or stressed that they will have to pick up the slack.  The elderly person may not live near public transport. Their independence and ability to interact with their communities can be drastically affected.  Either way there are lots of reasons for why a doctor may be reluctant to take away a license, or make it harder to keep it, even in the face of declining vision, mental accuity, and all the other things that we all will eventually face. 

When it comes to the elderly, doctors also arent held to a strict standard or any potential consequences when filling out the forms for renewal, and don't seem to be taking the implications seriously overall.  Most Australian transport laws don't impose mandatory road tests at intervals for drivers over 75, like in some other countries.    This is a huge glaring gap.

Aging is hard, and independence is important, but the truth is, that not being more careful and selective about who gets to keep driving as they age, is creating a dangerous roadway for everyone else.  Seniors are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of 7 to 10 years.  So perhaps the family doctor shouldn't be sole gate keeper when looking to solve this problem? 

I also found out that there is no national standard on how we manage drivers as they age and lose their sense of direction, mental clarity, vision and their reaction time deminishes.   Each Australian state has different, pretty easy to dodge, rules.

At a closer look, none of the ways of managing elderly drivers and their licensing seems to make any real or practical sense from a safety perspective.   See this RAGCP article on managing elderly drivers and how each state manages them :

The gatekeepers are not doing their jobs and its costing us in so many ways as a society.   As a result, people are unncessarily killed and maimed by  elderly drivers every day, and this includes children, and young adults. 

Some US statistics on aging drivers say the following: 

- In 2015, more than 6,800 older adults were killed and more than 260,000 were treated in emergency departments for motor vehicle crash injuries. This amounts to 19 older adults killed and 712 injured in crashes on average every day
- Drivers 65 and older are 16 percent likelier than adult drivers (those 25–64 years old) to cause an accident
- Involvement in fatal crashes, per mile traveled, begins increasing among drivers ages 70‒74 and are highest among drivers ages 85 and older. 

The system is also contradictory.  When a younger person suffers an illness or situation that impairs their ability to drive, like a surgery, injury that limits their mobility, vision etc, doctors are obliged to inform the transport office, and take the person's license away, until the person can consult an occupational therapist to show they have regained the ability to properly operate a car with due care and attention.   

Take drink driving as another example.  Alcohol reduces reaction time, impairs vision, and causes confusion.  Thats why we have strict laws to prevent people from driving while intoxicated.  They are a serious danger to other road users and pedestrians.   But for some reason, when it comes to an elderly person with reduced reaction time, impaired vision and confusion, the same seriousness is not applied. That doesn't make sense! 

Overall, in Australia, there is also no accountability for any of the decision makers when something goes wrong. An injured party can't file suit against the doctor that let the person keep driving.   Instead the havoc lands on the affected families and the financial burden lands on the tax payer and insurance companies who have to foot the bill for all the recovery expenses, or payout death benefits. 

What we need is a more measured and responsible way of dealing with this problem because by 2050, the population aged 65 and over is projected to almost double, so this issue is just going to get worse and the road toll will continue, and lives will continue to be affected. 

So how can we start changing the culture around elderly drivers so that we start saving lives and making our roads safer?  Here are a few level headed suggestions.  

1. Reforming state laws on drivers licensing, so that drivers over the age of 75 must go into testing centers to have their vision checked every year.

2. Drivers over the age of 75 should also perform a yearly road test to ensure they still have the awareness and reaction time to continue operating a car safely on our roads. 

3. Yearly driver medical examinations for the elderly, should be conducted by an independent doctor that is not the driver's normal family physician, to avoid any potential bias or reluctance on the part of the family doctor. 

4. When the elderly start developing certain conditions, like diminished eyesight, memory problems, mobility problems, reaction time, and so on, the family doctor should be mandated to report these to the transport department.  A failure to do this would result in the doctor being fined or and reprimanded, and if the driver injures or kills somone, the doctor should also be held partially liable for the damages. 

4. There should be a maximum age limit of 90 years old placed on drivers licenses nation wide. 

5. Insurance companies should also start encouraging drivers to retire after a certain age and making premiums more expensive for people over 80. 

6. If an elderly cannot drive anymore, the government should provide transport services using Uber or taxi credits so they can continue to maintain their independence. 

So please sign this petition so we can start finding ways to reform the system, to protect everyone, including the elderly.   Once this petition reaches enough signatures it will be sent to the ministers of transportation in each Australian state for consideration.  

42 have signed. Let’s get to 50!