Q and A : New Licensing System for Older Drivers

Published: Mon 19 Dec 2005 05:31 PM
19 December 2005
Questions and Answers
Planned New Licensing System for Older Drivers
1. What are the main features of the new system?
The new system will remove the mandatory on-road driving test that is currently needed to re-license at age 80 and two yearly afterwards. The medical certificate of fitness to drive will remain, however, with referral and support systems for GPs and health practitioners. Education and information for GPs, health practitioners and older drivers will also be emphasised.
The main features of the new system will be:
- no mandatory age-based on-road test for drivers aged 80 and over
- a Medical Certificate of Driver Licence indicating fitness to drive required to re-license at 75, 80 and two-yearly thereafter
- a revised Medical Certificate of Driver Licence form to make it simpler and clearer for GPs to complete
- the existing Land Transport New Zealand medical referral process and existing options for specialist assessment will be retained
- GPs and other health practitioners to be better informed about, and when appropriate, recommend licence conditions or restrictions (for example, no night driving or a distance restriction)
- an optional on-road test will be retained in certain circumstances (for example, if a patient 75 or over is medically fit to drive but their GP is uncertain about their ability to drive safely)
- a nationwide expansion of the popular Safe with Age road safety classroom course
- a 50 percent subsidy for a private on-road driving lesson for graduates of the Safe with Age course
- an education and information package to be targeted to older people, their families and communities
- an education and information package to be targeted to GPs
- monitoring of New Zealand and overseas research in developing assessment tools for fitness to drive
2. When will the new system start?
The start date for the planned new system is December 2006.
During 2006 public consultation will occur on an amendment to the Driver Licensing Rule to remove the mandatory on-road test for drivers age 80+. There will also be two education and information packages to introduce the new system. One package will be targeted to GPs and the other to older drivers, their families and communities. These will be provided by Land Transport New Zealand.
3. When does the current on-road driving test stop?
From December 2006, once the Rule has been signed by the Minister for Transport Safety and put in place by Land Transport NZ. Until then drivers 80 and over must continue to follow the existing Rule requiring a practical on-road driving test every two years if they wish to re-license. The current licensing system for older drivers remains in force until the law changes.
4. Why is the new system starting in December 2006?
Before the new system can legally start, the Rule process, which includes a period of mandatory public consultation, must occur. Following the signing and Gazetting of the Rule, Land Transport New Zealand has to make a number of significant system changes to set up the new Older Driver Licensing system. These include changes to information technology, medical processes and financial systems. There will also be a significant investment in education and information packages for older drivers and their families, and for GPs.
5. What early measures for older drivers are planned?
A separate amendment rule is expected to be signed in the next few months. It will remove the 'automatic only' condition for older drivers. Currently, when an older driver (80+) takes their on-road test in a vehicle with an automatic transmission, their licence restricts them to driving automatic vehicles only. The new Rule will permit older drivers to drive either an automatic or a manual vehicle. Drivers with an ¡¥automatic only¡¦ licence condition will not need to do anything, nor will any new licence cards be issued. The condition will simply be removed from the books and will no longer apply.
A proposal for a restricted or conditional licence test for older drivers which would have allowed limited local driving with a slightly easier driving test will not be introduced. This is because under the new system there will be no mandatory on-road test for older drivers, so a specific conditional licence will not be needed. As at present, licence conditions such as distance restrictions or driving at certain times of the day, can be recommended by GPs for approval by the Land Transport Medical Section. This system, which is already in place, allows specific licence restrictions to be tailored for an older person¡¦s individual circumstances.
Education and training for doctors and health professionals will help ensure they are aware of all the options available for conditional licences and use them where appropriate.
6. What plans are there to support older drivers and their families with education and information?
The popular Safe with Age courses for older drivers currently reach about 5000 people per year. Over $500,000 per annum in new funding is being provided to expand these courses to reach about 8,000 older drivers per annum over the next three years. More courses will be provided in the areas with greatest concentrations of older people, and new courses will be introduced in areas where they are not currently provided.
Safe with Age is a road safety awareness and road rules refresher course for persons over the age of 55. The free courses are run by local groups, such as Age Concern, and co-ordinated by Land Transport New Zealand.
From 1 July 2007, as part of the changes to older driver licensing, government will provide a 50% subsidy to Safe with Age graduates who wish to further improve their driving skills by taking a private on-road driving lesson.
Enhanced education and information packages about driving and retiring from driving will be introduced in 2006. Further details will be available from Land Transport New Zealand in 2006.
For further information about Safe with Age courses ring 0800 699 000
7. What plans are there to support GPs and other health practitioners?
Revised medical form
The Ministry of Transport and the Land Transport New Zealand medical section have been working closely with the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners and other relevant health and medical sector groups to make changes to the current Medical Certificate for Driver Licence that GPs are required to complete for fitness to drive.
These changes are designed to make the medical certificate form simpler and clearer for GPs to complete.
GP education
There will also be a number of initiatives designed to help GPs and other health practitioners in understanding, preparing for and adjusting to the new licensing system. This will include seminars for GPs in major centres, articles in relevant print and electronic journals, in newsletters and on key websites.
Referral systems
The new licensing system will provide a number of options for GPs following the assessment of their older patients for medical conditions.
In most cases, an older driver will pass their medical and proceed directly to the licensing agent, pay their fee, and renew their licence.
In other cases, GPs will be happy for their patient to relicence with an appropriate condition on their licence, (e.g. no night driving or a distance restriction). Training and education will be provided so that GPs are will informed about the range of licence conditions / restrictions that they can recommend for their patients, and when these are appropriate.
In certain circumstances, where a GP has examined and decided that a patient 75 or over is medically fit, but is uncertain about their ability to drive safely, then GPs can refer them for an on-road test. By passing the on-road test, the older driver can demonstrate that they meet the minimum standards of safe driving.
Where there is a question about medical fitness, GPs will be able to refer their patient on for more specialist medical assessments, such as to a gerontologist, Accident Training and Rehabilitation Centre, or in some cases, for an Occupational Therapist driving assessment. These medical assessments are reported back to the GP, and assist them in completing the medical fitness to drive certificate.
Any final decision about an older person¡¦s licence status rests with Land Transport NZ.
Assessment tools
The Ministry of Transport will continue to investigate and monitor the development of assessment tools for fitness to drive through international programmes of research and trials. Should any promising new tools arise the Ministry will work closely with the medical sector to discuss its possible introduction on a voluntary basis or as part of the licensing system.
8. Why is the system being changed?
New Zealand is one of the very few countries that requires drivers 80 and over to undertake a mandatory on-road driving test. The UK, Western European countries, and most Australian and US states have no age- based on-road testing of older drivers. Overall their crash statistics for older drivers are no better or worse than ours.
New Zealand older drivers are generally a safe group. Most older people drive conservatively and adequately self-regulate their driving. Older drivers are responsible for only about 2 percent of road casualties. This is consistent with the percentage of older drivers in the driving population.
Many older drivers say they find taking the over 80s driving test highly stressful, while organisations like Grey Power view the test as discriminatory. Other reasons for removing the test are:
- there is little evidence of road safety benefits from the test
- a very high percentage of older drivers who take the current on-road test pass it (some require more than one attempt)
- the mandatory test places an unfair financial burden on older people (currently $109.30 every two years for people 80 and over who wish to re-license. This will drop to $86.20 under the new system)
- maintaining mobility and access to the community are important values for older people. While this must be balanced against keeping our roads safe, there is no evidence that abolishing the driving test will compromise road safety.
9. Older Driver Statistics
Older drivers involved in crashes
- Only about 2% of the drivers involved in fatal crashes are aged 80 or over.
- Less than 2% of the drivers involved in fatal and injury crashes are aged 80 or over.
Casualties from crashes
„h Less than 3% of all road deaths occur in crashes involving a driver aged 80 or over.
„h Only about 2% of all reported road crash injuries occur in crashes involving a driver aged 80 or over.
By comparison
(The table shows the percentages of all drivers involved in crashes that fall within each age group, for fatal and injury crashes separately ).
Percent of drivers of known age
Fatal Injury Fatal and Injury
15-19 12.1% 15.1% 15.0%
20-24 12.3% 14.4% 14.3%
25-29 11.1% 10.2% 10.2%
30-34 11.6% 10.7% 10.7%
35-39 9.8% 10.1% 10.1%
40-44 9.3% 9.6% 9.6%
45-49 8.8% 7.8% 7.8%
50-54 6.5% 6.2% 6.2%
55-59 5.1% 4.7% 4.7%
60-64 4.2% 3.6% 3.7%
65-69 2.6% 2.5% 2.5%
70-74 2.5% 2.0% 2.0%
75-79 2.1% 1.6% 1.7%
80-84 1.2% 1.0% 1.0%
85-89 0.6% 0.5% 0.5%
90-94 0.1% 0.1% 0.1%
95-99 0.1% 0.0% 0.0%
Over 80 2.0% 1.6% 1.6%
10. Who developed the recommendations for the new system?
The recommendations were developed by a wide-ranging stakeholder consultative group led by the Ministry of Transport. The Group¡¦s members were:
Age Concern New Zealand
Alzheimer¡¦s Society
Association of Road Safety Co-ordinators of New Zealand
Bus and Coach Association (NZ) Inc
Grey Power New Zealand Federation
Insurance Council of New Zealand Inc
New Zealand Association of Gerontology
New Zealand Association of Occupational Therapists
New Zealand Association of Optometrists (Inc)
New Zealand Automobile Association Inc
New Zealand Geriatrics Society
Royal NZ College of General Practitioners
Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association
In addition, the following organisations have contributed to the Group¡¦s work:
Cycle Advocates Network
Living Streets Aotearoa
New Zealand Institute for Research on Ageing
New Zealand Taxi Federation Inc
Road Transport Forum New Zealand Inc
Information prepared by the Ministry of Transport

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