On 17th January 2019, Emma Fairweather was driving south along the A149, just south of Sandringham House. As she passed Babingley Social Club, a large black Land Rover pulled out of a side road into her path. Fairweather’s Kia Carens ploughed into the side of the Land Rover, causing the larger 4x4 to flip onto its side and roll off the road. Fairweather’s Kia skidded after it, eventually coming to a halt on the opposite grassy verge.
The driver of the Land Rover was 97-year-old Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. And the crash, which many have blamed on the Duke’s age, sparked a public debate on elderly motorists, specifically whether people should be allowed to retain their licence indefinitely.
Through our new study, we sought to explore public opinion on age and driving. We have uncovered several noteworthy trends supported by our opinion data. In this report, we will discuss each trend along with some supplementary contextual information.
Elderly motorists are making people feel unsafe on the roads.
As people live longer, the number of elderly drivers is increasing. Our research discovered that many people feel unsafe when driving alongside elderly motorists or being driven by elderly motorists.
In our survey, 48 percent of respondents said they felt unsafe when driving near elderly motorists. This feeling was most pronounced in people aged under 35 with 62 percent of people reporting feeling unsafe.
However, external evidence suggests that these fears are unfounded.
Research from the RAC Foundation shows that motorists aged over 75 account for 6 percent of all road users but account for just 4.3 percent of all deaths and serious injuries. This suggests that older motorists are actually relatively safe on the road. By contrast, drivers aged between 16 and 20 make up just 2.5 percent of all road users but account for 13 percent of those killed and seriously injured.
- 48 percent of UK motorists feel unsafe when driving near elderly motorists.
- 50 percent of UK motorists feel unsafe when being given by an elderly person.
Two-thirds of people believe elderly people should resit their driving test.
On 23rd April 1992, the winter weather finally lifted from New York and spring sunshine poked through the clouds. Crowds of people flocked to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. “Music and chatter were everywhere,” recalls Jesse McKinley, one of the park goers.
Without warning, a car veered off the road, entering the park on its east side and ploughed into a crowd of people. The speeding car continued until it eventually smashed into a concrete fountain. Tragically, four people lost their lives and a further 27 were seriously injured.
The car was driven by 74-year-old Stella Maychick, who, according to a police report, had run two stop signs before mounting the curb and entering the park. Officials concluded that Maychick had acted without malice or intent and had simply lost control of her vehicle, something many attributed to her age.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, many called for periodic testing of elderly drivers to ensure they were fit to drive. However, no legislation was ever introduced.
Our research discovered a strong public preference for periodic testing in the UK. Over 70 percent of respondents agreed that elderly people should have to resit their test in some form. This was one of the strongest trends in our research and we identified unanimous agreement across all age ranges.
- 71 percent of UK motorists believe elderly people should have to resit their driving test.
- 41 percent of UK motorists believe there is an age at which a person should no longer be permitted to drive.
- 48 percent of UK motorists think the current self-assessment driving licence renewal process isn’t sufficient.
People want self assessment replaced with in-person sight and coordination checks or medical reviews.
Once a UK motorist reaches 70-years-old, they must renew their licence every three years. But the renewal process is self-service and just asks people to confirm that they meet the minimum eyesight requirements and are not prevented from driving for any reason. The form does not include a medical or driving test.
In our survey, we discovered the many people—some 48 percent—believe the current self-assessed renewal process is not sufficient. Just 20 percent of respondents said the current system was sufficient.
Instead of a self-assessed declaration, respondents supported medical reviews (62 percent) and in-person sight tests (69 percent). A smaller proportion supported repeating partial driving tests (47 percent) and full driving tests (24 percent).
Across Europe, there is no consistent policy for renewing driving licences in later life. In Belgium, France, Germany and Sweden, for example, motorists do not have to renew their driver’s licence at any point during their lives. However, in Denmark, over 70s require a doctor’s certificate. Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands and Portugal all have similar policies to Denmark.
- 48 percent of UK motorists say the self-assessment driving licence renewal for over 70s isn’t sufficient.
- 69 percent support re-assessing elderly drivers with in-person sight and coordination checks.
- 62 percent support re-assessing elderly drivers with medical reviews.
Prince Philip should have surrendered his driver's licence before his crash.
On 17th January 2019, Prince Philip pulled out of a side road and into the path of an oncoming car. The oncoming car struck the Duke’s Land Rover, causing it to flip onto its side and slide off the road.
After his crash, Prince Philip reportedly wrote to the driver of the other car, who had sustained a broken wrist in the crash, to apologise.
“It was a bright and sunny day and at about three in the afternoon, the sun was low over the Wash,” wrote the Duke. “In other words, the sun was shining low over the main road. In normal conditions I would have no difficulty seeing traffic coming from the Dersingham direction.”
However, the other driver, Emma Fairweather, recalls that the day of the crash was overcast, casting into doubt the Duke’s account of the incident.
The majority of our survey’s respondents—52 percent—believe Prince Philip ought to have voluntarily surrendered his licence before his crash. An overwhelming majority—83 percent—agree that he was right to surrender it afterwards.
- 52 percent of UK motorists say Prince Philip should have given up his licence before his crash.
- 83 percent of UK motorists say Prince Philip was right to give up his licence after his crash.
Survey Methods and Data
Results for this poll are based on online survey responses collected on 17th April 2019 with a random sample of 100 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the UK. The sample for this study was randomly drawn from Pollfish’s network of 570M consumers.
Access to Data
To request a copy of our full report or a copy of the survey data, please email [email protected].