The old story

Paddy and Darren ready for assessment drive (LR) DSC_6889

Buckinghamshire County Council runs an older driver assessment course and not long ago an 82-year-old local man took it and passed.

This might seem laudable if unremarkable, but the driver in question was Paddy Hopkirk, Mini Cooper-piloting winner of the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally (amongst many other motor racing victories), the bloke who put his name to vehicle accessories that generations of drivers happily bolted to their cars, and all round good egg, who knows a thing or two about controlling vehicles.

‘It’s not only young kids who are killing people on the roads,’ said the affable Mr. H, ‘and it’s always good to brush up on your skills.’

Paddy and Darren Mundy with Paddy's Mini Cooper JCW (LR) DSC_6883
Hopkirk described himself ‘horrified’ on hearing that between 2009 and 2013 the number of fatal car crashes in Buckinghamshire involving drivers aged over 65 had risen annually by 60 per cent. One of the consequences of people generally living longer and being more active into advanced old age is that the number of drivers over 65 is likely to rise by around 30,000 in the next decade.

If the Buckinghamshire figures mirror a national trend then it flags up a serious problem. How do you reconcile the freedom many older people enjoy from owning cars against their and other people’s safety? Tests like the one Paddy Hopkirk took seem to be a partial answer, and other local authorities, including Kent and Hants are either offering them or looking at the idea.

Value my car

Hopkirk himself thinks that senior drivers need to be on top of adapting to the physical changes time chucks at them and changes to cars themselves.

‘Pillars are thicker in modern cars, so you’ve got to lean forward to see round corners,’ he says. ‘Mirrors are different, and there are a lot more cyclists, so you have to be careful when turning left.’

As for working with the ageing process, ‘if you can’t turn your head like you did when you were 21, you’ve got to use your mirrors more. It’s what lorry drivers do.’
Paddy in driving seat with Darren outside car (LR) DSC_6894

He thinks a driving plague that impacts on every age group is an inability to reverse. ‘I live down a narrow lane with passing places, and am amazed at the number of people who don’t know how to reverse. At night they do things like leave their lights on full when they’re going up hill and find they have to reverse.’

He once again alludes to professional drivers using their mirrors to go backwards, and suggests that drivers of a certain age can learn to do the same.

He thinks that being realistic about how good your eyes are is a major factor for the more mature driver, and that glare on motorways from the sun when it’s low in the sky is more of an issue for him than it was, and he’s particularly careful on country lanes where trees and hedges car create sudden pools of darkness.

‘Any optician will tell you that the speed your eyes convert light slows as you get older.

Value my car

He concedes that giving up a driving license ‘must be awful, like having your coffin delivered,’ but thinks that a willingness to test and refresh skills, and make sure that medically everything is OK will bring peace of mind. He also sees no reason why driving can still be fun.

‘You don’t need to drive like a rally driver, you just need to be careful. I use buses a lot in London, and see those young girls and boys chucking them about. You can see their expertise. It’s all about anticipation and judgment, so if the extreme does happen, you’re more likely to handle it.’