At what age is one considered to be 'an older person'? I suppose that at the ripe old age of 75 I am regarded by others as 'old', although personally speaking I consider age is strictly a case of mind over matter. If you don't mind it doesn't matter!
That may well be my opinion, but when it comes to being responsible behind the wheel of a car it's not the best policy to adopt. So when I recently interviewed an Executive of The Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) who appeared on my weekly radio programme We've Got Mail (The Wireless DAB) I posed him the question "At 75 years of age should I stop driving?"
He replied that the trick is to stop when you know your time behind the wheel is up, and that feeling varies enormously from one person to another, adding that taking the decision causes concern to both the motorist and the motorist's family and friends. I decided to investigate further and to take up his offer of having my own driving skills assessed to see if indeed my time was up.
Brave of me? It seemed a good idea at the time but as the date grew nearer I realised this would be serious and could impact on how I live my life. If indeed I failed to impress the assessor I might be forced to give up driving altogether, with severe repercussions on my lifestyle impacting both my work and social life.
It set me thinking, why would so many people request an assessment as apparently they do? It appears some older people feel they need a trusted opinion on whether to stop driving for their own or others safety, but the IAM have found that people can be at risk of giving up too soon and need reassurance that it's OK for them to carry on. Relatives of other older people (children, grandchildren, and partners) have concerns about their loved ones driving, and having an assessment is a way to broach the tricky subject. IAM research revealed that up to 15% of older people give up too early, simply because they lack confidence. By law everyone approaching 70 is requested to renew their driving licence and some people feel that having an assessment reassures them they can continue to drive.
At no time have I discussed with family or friends giving up driving, nor have I doubted my own ability until now, so I am curious to know if I am indeed a competent driver. Nowadays I will admit, as do many of my age. that I am less confident driving at night, finding cars with full headlights blazing a constant irritation. But my biggest annoyance is Tailgating, with someone intimidating me by driving close behind at a distance which does not guarantee stopping to avoid collision. And these same pests all too often have full headlights on too! Am I becoming a Grumpy old woman?
The IAM know what they are doing and I decided they were the best people to do the Mature Drivers Assessment for me. My appointed assessor duly arrived at my home, spot on time, and of course I was to discover she was a senior plain clothes policewoman! She was charming and polite although I'm sure viewed me with some apprehension, as indeed I did her. With clipboard and pencil firmly in hand she inspected my Audi A1 and finally we both climbed aboard. Seat belts securely fastened we took to the road.
My nerves disappeared almost immediately as I concentrated on the road ahead along county lanes, a village square, main roads and the dreaded M25 motorway. I'm an experienced driver having been behind a wheel since I was 18 years old (do your maths!). I've travelled the length and breadth of the UK, usually alone, en route to work commitments or family occasions so I'm aware and wary of speed limits and road signs. The hour's assessment passed quickly, without any major incidents or comments from my assessor, and I finally manoeuvred the car into my parking space somewhat anxious of the outcome.
The assessor requested my driving licence and eventually over a cup of coffee told me the result. I had seemingly performed well, although she had noted that at times my speeds could have been FASTER, and I signalled a lot. My heart sank and I felt miffed. I commented that surely these were signs of a cautious not a reckless driver? She responded informing me that many of my age group do the same but that overuse is unnecessary. Secretly I decided that both were "good" faults and realised I had possibly overdone them due to her presence and the assessing situation.
Yet I was apprehensive, was I the "competent" driver I thought I was? Then the final verdict and to my relief I had passed and she was pleased and impressed with my driving skills. Indeed I had passed with flying colours - Grade 1"Excellent". The assessor added that she didn't make an "Excellent" assessment too often! I felt a great sense of self satisfaction.
Looking at the results in more detail it appeared I had shown good observation, positioning, signalling, and respect for other motorists and that I was indeed a very competent driver. The assessor suggested I might like to take my driving skills to a higher level. I could enrol on The Skill for Life Advanced Driving Challenge were I would be allotted an Observer who would first advise and then observe me driving my own car. At the conclusion I would receive either a straight Pass or a Fail for my driving skills. Um...I'll think about it!
Apparently for a small fee of £35.00 the IAM also run modules for drivers of any age, who have specific concerns regarding their driving skills, such as difficulty with parking, or are overly nervous of driving on motorways or through country lanes. What a great idea to help overcome a particular fear.
The cost of my Mature Driver's Assessment was £135.00. So did I think it was worth it? For me yes, and hopefully with such a positive result I can continue confidently behind the wheel of my own car for many years yet!
Now that's what I call a brilliant start to New Year 2015! Why don't you take up the challenge? For more information click here >