Family doctor: Better ways to measure elderly drivers' ability needed

Le Vallikivi.
Le Vallikivi. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Severe traffic accidents caused by elderly drivers have sparked a public debate over whether the right to drive of older people should be evaluated more often than every five years. Family doctor Le Vallikivi says that while age can have a very different effect on the ability to drive, checks could be better.

Elderly drivers caused 11 percent of traffic accidents with casualties last year, which is in the same ballpark as those caused by minors," Raul Annuka, head of the traffic damages unit of the North Police Prefecture, said on the "Terevisioon" morning show.

"Looking at statistics, the number of elderly drivers is growing and will soon reach 25 percent in Europe," Annuka said.

With the elderly, we are mainly talking about cardiovascular conditions, said Le Vallikivi, head of the Estonian Family Medicine Association. "Arteries in the brain are prone to clogging, which impairs all cognitive functions. There is also dementia, and various addictions are a contributing factor among the elderly," Vallikivi said.

"Looking at health check parameters, there are many diseases which do not rule out driving if treated properly. Mandatory health checks become more frequent after the age of 65, and we have a better picture of how the years affect people's health," Annuka said.

"There is a gap in legislation in terms of how to suspend a health certificate after certain conditions that affect driving manifest," Vallikivi added. "We do not currently receive information to tell us that our patient has been involved in an incident that makes them a potential risk in traffic. The process needs to start with the patient. The person might also be unhappy with my decision, turn to a private healthcare provider and still get their certificate," the doctor said. "There is a lot of room for improvement if we are after more control."

"Cardiovascular disease, different brain conditions and addictions affect people's ability to be critical of their condition. The person and their family members might not be fit to adequately gauge their medical condition. It is also a topic of potential conflict," Vallikivi remarked.

"Loved ones have a role to play if they are aware of how the person drives. Back to back fender benders and passengers refusing to drive with the person can be warning signs to suggest it's time to suggest they should hang up their driving gloves."

Raul Annuka said that it has been decided in Europe that the condition of elderly drivers needs to be checked every five years. "There are countries where drivers over the age of 75 must get a health checkup every 13 months, with driving skills also looked at starting from a certain age."


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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