Elderly motorists to get support

Elderly motorists are to be handed a lifeline with the appointment of a new road safety tsar who will help keep them behind the wheel - and reduce casualties.

Elderly motorists are to be handed a lifeline with the appointment of a new road safety tsar who will help keep them behind the wheel - and reduce casualties.

The campaign will offer pensioners refresher training courses, medical checks and general advice on how to keep drive safely into old age.

A network of organisations - from GPs surgeries to social services - will be set up to offer support. An education programme will be launched and professionals will be asked to spread the word to motorists needing help.

It is part of a £2m initiative and comes as pensioners face a fight to stay on the road after transport secretary Ruth Kelly last month launched an inquiry into the possibility of an upper age limit for drivers.

This followed Norwich coroner William Armstrong's suggestion that such a limit should be investigated following the death of 92-year-old George Pyman near Swainsthorpe.

Mr Pyman, who had only one eye, crashed after failing to see an oncoming car.

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But the Norfolk County Council scheme should provide the over-65s with a boost. Instead of encouraging them to give up driving it will look at ways to help them stay safe well into later life.

Casualty reduction manager Stuart Hallett said: “Elderly drivers account for 15pc of all road casualties in the county and the demographic is getting older so that is something we must address.

“But we want to get away from this idea that all elderly drivers must be encouraged to give up their licences. Instead we will look to put a support network combining health bodies, GPs and social services to identify the cause of any problem and address it.

“For example if a person experiences mobility problems this may prevent them checking for oncoming traffic at junctions. By providing driver training we can teach them new methods to improve safety.

“Often the problem is relatively small. Perhaps somebody is having a problem changing gears and all they really need is to switch over to an automatic.”

The move was welcomed tentatively by the Norfolk and Norwich Pensioners' Association. Secretary Edith Pocock said: “There is a feeling among elderly drivers that they are being victimised. A great many people remain safe and responsible into old age.

“As long as elderly people are involved in making these decisions and as long as this is used to give help to those who really need it, this should be welcomed.

“But we should not forget that there are also a lot of young drivers and middle aged motorists who are also a danger and who also need attention.”

As the law stands, all drivers must renew their licences at the age of 70 and then every three years. There is no independent verification of ability to drive unless the DVLA is contacted by relatives or doctors to say the person is no longer fit to drive.

There are more than 1.5 million drivers aged 75 or over on Britain's roads and the proportion of people aged over 70 with a driving licence rose from 15pc in 1975 to 47pc in 2004.

At last month's inquest Mr Armstrong said he would like to see the government examine more robust testing of people's fitness to drive, the possibility of an upper age limit and the use of state appointed medical practitioners as opposed to the patient's own GP to assess drivers over-65.

The new post was unveiled yesterday as part of a package of new road safety schemes. The Norfolk Safety Camera Partnership, which is a joint initiative between the council and Norfolk police, as obtained the extra funding over four years.

Other schemes include mobile Speed Awareness Messages which will be deployed in communities across the county where speeding is an issue. The signs inform drivers of their speed and ask them to slow down if they are exceeding the limit.

A new unit equipped with four cameras pointing in all directions is also being purchased. This will help tackle the problem of speeding motorcyclists who often go undetected because their bikes have only one number plate.

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