Should the elderly be driving alone on our roads?


Dave Avran

I make reference to a news report about 80-year-old grandmother Chan Tee Neo, who was left with a swollen left eye, bleeding nose and abrasion on her left hand after a minor car accident at 1.30pm on Sept 2 in Melaka.

Madam Chan claims the other driver, a male in his 30s, had hit her car but turned aggressive and started assaulting her. She also alleges the other driver had the audacity to physically hit her outside the Banda Hilir police station after a verbal spat before violently dragging her inside.

Her son Robert Lim is quoted as saying his mother is an independent woman and despite her age, still drives and manages the family’s business. I have several observations to share here based on the above incident:

It’s definitely wrong for a male to assault a female no matter what the circumstances or provocation.

It’s also definitely wrong for a young man in his 30s to hit a lady old enough to be his grandmother.

If it’s true that he physically hit Madam Chan and dragged her into the police station as alleged, why was there no action taken by the policemen on duty?

Another pertinent question – is it safe for an 80 year old to be driving around alone?

While I do not claim to have any legal training or knowledge, my concern here is the safety aspect for both the elderly driver as well as others on the road. As far as I am aware, there is no law in Malaysia to say that a person will be prohibited from driving when he or she reaches a certain age. Therefore, a person can indeed continue to keep on driving as long as he or she feels competent enough to do so.

Some Malaysian motor insurance companies do impose a driver’s age limit of 65 years, with an excess rider ranging from RM1,000 to RM3,000 for accident damage. Similarly some car rental companies also have a cut off age of 65 for potential hirers.

Of course, common sense dictates that certain criteria have to be met. The first factor should be eyesight. A normal person should be able to see a distance of a minimum of 23 metres. A driver, regardless of age must also be able to see the traffic lights clearly.

One concern pertaining to eyesight is the question of astigmatism. This weakness is essentially light splitting and can cause one’s vision to blur thus leading to poor or unclear sight. This usually occurs during night driving. Therefore any driver suffering from astigmatism is always advised against driving at night. Driving during the day though would still be alright.

The second factor which qualifies one to drive is hearing. To drive safely, a driver should be able to hear vehicles approaching from the rear, police sirens and ambulances wailing, cars honking and so forth.

The third criteria to consider would be good reflexes. Again regardless of age, good reflexes especially of the arms and legs are extremely important. Is the driver still capable of applying brakes fast in emergency situations? Are the hands arthritis-free and capable of quick reflexes and changing of gears? In short, a driver, no matter what his age, should possess alertness.

For an elder person, driving in today’s stressful conditions can be rather straining and tiring. Finally, a person who wishes to drive should be able to remember roads and places well. He should also not pose any problem to other road users. If a driver can take all these in his stride, then there is no reason for him to quit driving.

My recommendation is that drivers above the age of 65 be required to undergo a simple medical test to determine their driving fitness and proficiency every six months. This will give them peace of mind, their loved ones won’t constantly worry about them and other road users will feel safe too.

Dave Avran is founder of Malaysians Against Rape, Assault & snatcH theft (MARAH).

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.