Study: Aptitude tests for older drivers lead to fewer accidents

Partying on the Reeperbahn, cafés and bars on Sternschanze and shopping on Mönckebergstrasse - Hamburg has many famous districts and streets.

Study: Aptitude tests for older drivers lead to fewer accidents

Partying on the Reeperbahn, cafés and bars on Sternschanze and shopping on Mönckebergstrasse - Hamburg has many famous districts and streets. But the Waitzstraße in Othmarschen attracts attention with another curiosity: shop window accidents. Whether in May 2021 in the building of the Hamburger Sparkasse or most recently in December last year against tables and chairs in a restaurant - it is mainly senior citizens who drive their cars into the shops on the street.

In 2020, the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" wrote about a curse and counted a total of 24 accidents by mostly elderly drivers in the shopping street. Even conversion measures carried out in recent years, such as converting the parking spaces across the road into parallel parking spaces or the erection of 60 special bollards, could not completely prevent the collisions. But could driving tests possibly help?

A study from Japan has now shown that mandatory driving tests for senior citizens lead to fewer car accidents. As reported by the American Society for Geriatrics (AGS), police data on accidents that occurred in Japan from July 2012 to December 2019 were evaluated. Only people over the age of 70 were examined. During this period, 602,885 collisions with drivers occurred in the target group.

Expert: No problem with excessive accidents

Then, in March 2017, a change in the law was introduced that made mandatory cognitive screening tests for older drivers mandatory. If the elderly were diagnosed with dementia, their driver's license could be revoked. As a result, according to the study, the number of accidents among male drivers has fallen continuously. The connection was not so clear for female drivers.

The head of the accident research of the insurers (UDV), Siegfried Brockmann, sees in the seniors a similarly conspicuous risk group as in young drivers from 18 to 24 years. However, there is currently no problem with an excessive number of accidents, since people over the age of 75 have far fewer driving licenses and also drive fewer kilometers. Above all, many women of that age do not have a driver's license, which would also explain the different decline in the number of accidents among seniors and seniors in Japan. But in the coming generations, demographic change will probably lead to an increase in the number of car accidents involving elderly people.

According to Brockmann, there is a whole range of measures to counteract this development. However, not a single one of those that could lead to the loss of a driver's license was rated positively. The main problem is the "false negative rate". If every older person had to take a test, "all the cutlery" could not be used as in the case of the medical-psychological examination (MPU). At the MPU, you take the day for the people, but that costs the judged 700 euros - and in this case "without cause or suspicion", emphasized the head of the UDV. This disproportionately disadvantages poor pensioners in particular.

Plea for mandatory feedback trip

Brockmann therefore advocates a lower-threshold offer: namely a mandatory feedback trip. During this trip, for example, the pensioner is accompanied and assessed by a professional for 45 minutes. The senior citizens should be informed about their ability to drive and in the next step, based on the assessment, would have to decide for themselves whether they want to give up their driving license or not. This feedback trip should not be linked to the loss of the driver's license, as this would lead to many false judgments, if only because of great nervousness.

The accident statistics for the General German Automobile Club (ADAC) show that the group of older drivers does not cause an above-average number of serious accidents. According to the association, the nevertheless registered increase in accidents involving seniors over 75 years of age is due to two reasons: Firstly, the number of people over 75 years of age with a driving license has increased and secondly, the proportion of this age group in the population is increasing.

For the ADAC, the age of the people is not decisive for participation in road traffic, but the state of health and driving experience. The group of older drivers is generally characterized by a driving style adapted to the situation and anticipatory driving. The association also rejects test procedures that have been developed so far, as they could lead to drivers losing their driver's license by mistake.

Debate about reporting requirements for doctors

An alternative model has been debated since Wednesday at the Traffic Court Day in Goslar: an obligation for doctors to report people who are unfit to drive. In addition to the elderly, this also applies to seriously ill people. The underlying question is whether and when doctors are allowed or even supposed to report patients with restrictions to the driving license authorities. Many associations, including the ADAC, are against such a reporting obligation, which would break medical confidentiality. They fear a loss of trust between doctor and patient.

A ruling by the Federal Court of Justice in 1968 allowed doctors to report people who were unfit to drive to the authorities in exceptional cases if "there is imminent danger," said a spokesman for Germany's automobile club. To do this, they must first inform the patient about their illness and the associated dangers of driving.

Beyond the discussion, the Japanese study shows not only a decrease in car accidents after mandatory aptitude tests for drivers over 70 years of age, but also the number of accidents among cyclists and pedestrians at the age increased.

Co-author Haruhiko Inada of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore concluded that safety measures for cyclists and pedestrians needed to be strengthened. Older people should also be prepared to give up driving and be provided with "safe, alternative means of transport".