Medical screening for older drivers is misguided, argues senior doctor

September 25, 2012, British Medical Journal

Medical screening of older drivers is misguided and typifies a "worrying lack of due diligence" by the medical profession, warns a senior doctor in BMJ today.

Professor Desmond O'Neill, Consultant Physician in Geriatric and Stroke Medicine at Trinity College Dublin, argues that older drivers not only have an enviable crash record, but they also raise traffic safety among other generations: the risk of serious injury to children is halved if driven by grandparents rather than parents. "Yet the belief that older drivers pose a disproportionate risk to other road users refuses to die."

He points to a recent report from a UK parliamentary charity that "disappointingly overstates the risk of older drivers and recommends training for them, an unnecessary measure of dubious value," he says. Likewise, many jurisdictions demand of all older drivers, "with the tacit or active acquiescence of the medical profession."

Several factors contribute to this professional lassitude, says Professor O'Neill, such as confusing increased risk of death because of fragility with , and concerns that age related cognitive impairment and dementia might still justify mass screening of older drivers.

However, a recent study lays the latter issue to rest. When the Danish government added a cognitive screening test to the medical screening test for , it did not reduce the rate of older people dying in but significantly increased the rate of older (but not younger) people killed as unprotected – that is, pedestrians and cyclists.

"This hazardous shift from protected to unprotected road user mirrors that found in previous studies on medical screening," says Professor O'Neill, and "should quench the misguided thirst for screening and direct our attention to the real health issues facing our older patients who drive."

He calls for "transportation that is flexible and responsive to the needs of older people" as well as car safety features "designed with the increased fragility of later life in mind." The abolition of age related medical screening and better guidelines for doctors could also play an important role, he adds.

Rather than , "we should focus on evidence based innovations, such as restricted licensing and rehabilitation, for people with age-related illness," he says. "This is the best approach to protect the safe mobility, and avoid further unhelpful stigmatisation, of a group whose ranks most of us will join in due course."

Explore further: In defense of older drivers

Related Stories

In defense of older drivers

April 2, 2012
The notion that senior drivers have higher rates of crashes because they are poorer drivers is largely a misconception, according to a commentary in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Varied license laws for older drivers

September 17, 2012
(AP)—More older drivers are on the road, and an Associated Press review finds a hodgepodge of rules governing what they must do to stay behind the wheel.

Driving errors increase with age among older drivers

May 16, 2011
Even healthy adults with a safe driving record tend to make more driving errors as they age, including potentially dangerous mistakes, such as failing to check blind spots, according to a study published by the American Psychological ...

Recommended for you

Research confronts 'yucky' attitudes about genetically engineered foods

September 18, 2018
Is a non-browning apple less "natural" than non-fat milk? In one case, people have injected something into apple DNA to prevent it from turning brown after it's cut. In the other, people used technology to remove something ...

Thinking beyond yourself can make you more open to healthy lifestyle choices

September 17, 2018
Public health messages often tell people things they don't want to hear: Smokers should stop smoking. Sedentary people need to get moving. Trade your pizza and hot dogs for a salad with lean protein.

Shifting focus from life extension to 'healthspan' extension

September 17, 2018
Clinicians, scientists and public health professionals should proudly "declare victory" in their efforts to extend the human lifespan to its very limits, according to University of Illinois at Chicago epidemiologist S. Jay ...

Survey finds 2M US teens are vaping marijuana

September 17, 2018
A school-based survey shows nearly 1 in 11 U.S. students have used marijuana in electronic cigarettes, heightening health concerns about the new popularity of vaping among teens.

Air pollution affects thyroid development in fetuses, research finds

September 17, 2018
Soot and dust alters thyroid development in fetuses before they are born in smoggy cities, raising concern about health impacts later in life, new USC research shows.

Witnessing violence in high school as bad as being bullied

September 17, 2018
Students who witness violence in school at age 13 are at later risk of psycho-social and academic impairment at age 15, according to a new longitudinal study by researchers at Université de Montréal with colleagues in Belgium ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.