Heather Roy’s Diary: Wide Road Safety Focus Needed

Column – ACT New Zealand

It’s not easy telling an elderly relative that they should stop driving, or that they can’t drive your children anymore because you’re fearful for their safety. We convince ourselves that elderly drivers don’t travel far, and usually at low speeds, …
Wider Focus Needed For Road Safety
It’s not easy telling an elderly relative that they should stop driving, or that they can’t drive your children anymore because you’re fearful for their safety. We convince ourselves that elderly drivers don’t travel far, and usually at low speeds, but preventable accidents and deaths should be targeted across the board.

Current road safety campaigns target only speed and drink-driving, and there has been a big focus lately on whether or not to lower blood-alcohol limits. While it’s easy to target teenagers and drink-drivers for the road toll, we need to remember that these are not the only risks on the road.

This was highlighted during the weekend when an elderly man caused carnage by driving the wrong way on the Auckland Motorway – less than a month after another elderly driver crashed into a North Shore house and killed its resident. Clearly there are other areas in which drivers’ judgement or ability may be impaired.

Previously, people wishing to retain their licence once they reached age 75 had to present a medical certificate. When they turned 80 they were required to undergo a practical driving test, which was renewed every two years. While these tests caused applicants some anxiety, 96 percent of elderly drivers passed – if not always on their first attempt – and we could be sure that elderly drivers were fit to be behind the wheel.

The lead-up to the 2005 election, however, saw Labour and New Zealand First fighting to win the Over-65 vote. It was as part of this ‘bidding war’ that Helen Clark announced to a Grey Power conference that the practical driving test for elderly drivers would be abolished.

The pledge was, predictably, welcomed enthusiastically by Grey Power groups throughout New Zealand. But it drew warnings from the Automobile Association (AA) and the insurance industry.

Under the new system – which is in place today – drivers aged 75+ must: renew their licence every two-five years, present a medical certificate each time they apply, and sit a 30-minute ‘On-The-Road Safety Test’ if recommended by their doctor.

Helen Clark’s announcement in 2005 was also met with dismay by doctors because they were suddenly responsible for certifying that a patient was fit to drive for the next two years – and they knew that the blame for any accident caused by an elderly driver would be put back on them. Even worse: too many such accidents, and a commission of inquiry would be held – with terms of reference drafted in such a way as to ensure that doctors, not flawed government policy, were at fault.

The fact is that some of the tests that are necessary to truly certify a patient as fit to drive are not routinely available in general practice. While GPs can test vision and form an opinion about a patient’s general health, other tests require specialist training and equipment.

For example: neurological function testing is particularly important when there is a question of Alzheimer’s Disease. While some loss of mental function doesn’t have a huge affect on driving ability, the ability to move attention from one object to another is vitally important These constraints mean that doctors are not in a position to be able to judge whether or not their patient is fit to drive – especially for the next two-five years.

In the wake of Saturday night’s incident, the Automobile Association (AA) is now calling for elderly drivers to be required to undertake compulsory driving courses – especially given that the optional ‘Safe With Age’ driving course for elderly drivers was discontinued last year.

The AA wants a modified version of the ‘Safe With Age’ course to be made compulsory and says it is wanted and needed by elderly drivers who wish to retain their mobility and independence.

This desire also causes some elderly drivers to not renew their licence, for fear of failing the medical assessment or the ‘On-The-Road Safety Test’. Instead, they continue driving in the hope that they don’t get caught. An unlicensed elderly driver is as dangerous as an unlicensed driver of any other age and the law needs to be enforced. As in all areas, enforcement is important to ensuring safety on our roads.

While elderly drivers do not statistically pose an enormous risk on the roads, the fact is that a risk still exists and strategies are needed to address that. There is no denying that drink-driving and speeding are among the greatest dangers on our roads, but they cannot be our sole focus is we are to make real inroads into reducing the road toll.

Lest We Forget – Women’s Suffrage Petition Presented To Parliament
The struggle for women’s suffrage in New Zealand saw three petitions presented to Parliament in three years, with the third and largest being presented on July 28 1893 and containing nearly 32,000 signatures – around 25 percent of New Zealand’s entire adult European female population.

Women’s suffrage had already suffered a number of setbacks before this. Although Parliament passed Bills that would have enfranchised all women in both 1891 and 1892, both Bills were amended in the Legislative Council by suffrage opponents.

Following the presentation of the 1893 petition, yet another Bill passed easily through the House and went to the Legislative Council – where opponents, including Prime Minister Richard Seddon, again tried to sabotage it.

Unfortunately for them, two Opposition councillors who had previously opposed suffrage chose to change their votes and support the Bill – if only to embarrass the Prime Minister. These altered votes saw the Bill pass 20 to 18 and was signed into law later that year to give all adult women the right to vote.


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