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Help offered to older drivers

PUBLISHED: 15:24 09 January 2008 | UPDATED: 12:42 20 May 2010

A pioneering scheme to help older drivers stay safely on the road longer is being launched in north Norfolk.

Patients at two local surgeries are being offered free help and assessments to help them find ways around the potential problems faced by motorists as age and infirmity start to affect their ability behind the wheel.

A pioneering scheme to help older drivers stay safely on the road longer is being launched in north Norfolk.

Patients at two local surgeries are being offered free help and assessments to help them find ways around the potential problems faced by motorists as age and infirmity start to affect their ability behind the wheel.

They will be checked to see what problems they might have, and steered towards solutions under the pilot project, which involves GP practices at Aldborough and at Holt, which also covers Blakeney and Melton Constable.

Casualty reduction officer Peter Walton stressed the project was aimed at keeping older drivers on the road and cutting accidents, rather than getting their licences taken away.

Statistics showed that drivers aged 55-plus accounted for 22.54pc of the accidents in north Norfolk, well above the Norfolk average of 17.42pc, and almost on a par with the 29.26pc chalked up by the 16-24 year olds who are notoriously the biggest risk group.

So it was decided to focus the Department for Transport-funded pilot scheme called Gold - Guidance for Older Drivers - in the north of the county, said Mr Walton.

While some people were perfectly fit to drive into their 60s and 70s, some would be hitting problems because of illness, frailty, stiffness of joints, and failing vision, which could slow down response times, night sight and recovery from headlamp glare.

People with a range of conditions including epilepsy, diabetes, heart problems, Parkinson's or stroke had to declare it to the driver licensing authorities, and drivers had to retake their tests every three years after the age of 70.

But under the pilot scheme people over 55 who had driving concerns could contact officials, who would not “squeal to the DVLA” said Mr Walton.

“We are not trying to take people's licences away, but to help them stay on the road, safely, as long as possible.”

People stepping forward for checks, which were confidential, would be asked to take drives with an assessor who would then advise give advice on how to deal with whatever issues arose.

That could range from help with adjusting and operating car equipment to vehicle modifications, such as left-footed accelerators or adapted steering wheels.

If people were faced with surrendering their licence because problems were insurmountable, officials would also help seek alternative transport, which might be taxis, volunteer car schemes, or even press for public transport improvements.

But the main aim was to keep people driving, keep them safe and reduce accidents.

The pilot scheme runs until March 2009, covering the Holt and Aldborough surgery areas, but over the next few weeks there will also be leaflets in libraries across the county promoting other similar schemes for all areas, but where assessments have to be paid for.

At Aldborough surgery, where a third of the 2000-plus patients are aged 60 and over, practice manager Julie Grey said: “It is hoped that with individually-tailored advice available through the scheme and the current health and medication monitoring by the surgery that many people who are currently challenged with the modern day roads will feel much happier and safer driving locally, enhancing their lives and keeping them independent.”

For more information contact the surgeries involved, or the county council casualty reduction office on 01603 223388.

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