Are you still safe to drive ?

Are You Still Safe to Drive? Is surely one of the most difficult conversations to have with an elderly relative? Here are some things to consider.

The statistics show that people over 80 are as likely to be the cause of or the casualty in a road traffic accident as people in their early 20’s. We know how important being able to keep driving is for an older person – not only for their dignity and independence but because often it is the only way they can actually travel to the places they need to go or they will become prisoners in their homes. We can understand how resistant people are to have the conversation about this but what often happens is that this delay leads to a crisis – a crisis that curtails an innocent life!

We ran a project a couple of years ago with Police Scotland and we founds that having the conversation and offering solutions can be a positive. We designed a questionnaire purely designed to help you or a loved one think about the changes you may want to make to help you drive safer for longer. The questionnaire asks

  • Do you feel confident that you are a sage driver?
  • Can you turn your head in both directions to see any blind spot?
  • Can you perform an emergency stop?
  • Do your eyes adjust well to changing levels of darkness/brightness?
  • Do you have your car maintained and checked at regular intervals?
  • Do you feel sufficiently alert to process all the road information around you and make good decisions

There are a list of 15 recommendations on the back but if I was to highlight one of the most important changes it would be the benefit of strength and balancing exercises such as OTAGO.

People who attend our classes report measurable improvement in their ability to turn their neck and this has made them much more confident that they can see traffic and pedestrians around them. Our members report that the exercises have helped improve their leg strength and they feel much more able to brake robustly when needed and even helps with clutch control. The improvement in their mobility generally also means they have more options about where to park because they no longer need to be as close to a door as before. However the biggest gain is that the regular exercise has a huge benefit on their concentration and alertness. You can find the full questionnaire by following this link. There is also one for helping pedestrians stay safer.

There does however often come a time when it is not safe for an older person to continue driving and this can provoke very negative grief reactions. There is no magic wand but the more preparation people make for this time and the more emotional and practical support they are given can have a positive impact. Here is a link to a guide that may help

Lastly I need to mention taxis! Our frustration knows no bounds when older people opt to sit at home rather than pay a few pounds (in urban areas) for a taxi instead of coming out to a life enhancing social opportunity. The barriers are often not financial[i] but the perception of it being an extravagance, the anxiety of who the driver will be or just a dogged belief that this is not an option that applies to them. If I could urge families to work on 2 lifestyle changes above all others they would be breaking up your sitting every hour every day and if you can’t walk to get out, or if you don’t feel able to get the bus anymore and if no one is able to give you a lift then DON’T become a Prisoner for the Price of a Taxi.


[i] We fully recognise the much wider issues around transport and access to affordable, sustainable and safe transport. We work in partnership with Police Scotland on a Travelling with Confidence campaign, contributors to the Alliance response to the National Transport Strategy 2019. We work with Community Transport Association Scotland and Living Street. It is not our intention to under estimate the challenges many people face physically or financially however this blog is written to highlight that for many older people and their relatives these are choices they may like to consider.


Back in 2003 the Sloppy Slipper scheme was funded!


The following extract is a newspaper article about the importance of good footwear and in particular slippers. The importance of good slippers was deemed so valuable that a project was funded to subsidise the cost of good slippers. We urge you to have a look at the type of slippers your older relations wear and consider having a chat with them about why they need to consider a more sturdy style. Primary prevention of falls can make such a hugely positive impact on not only an older persons life, on the life of the carer or wider family who need to support that person after they fracture a wrist or hip and to the cost to our NHS of treating that person after an avoidable injurious falls.


‘Sloppy slipper’ scheme cuts old people’s falls

Helene Mulholland

Tue 23 Dec 2003 

A scheme to bin “sloppy slippers” has helped reduce falls among older people by 60%, according to a pioneering primary care trust.

Easington primary care trust was one of three pilot sites to benefit from a £75,000 Department of Health grant to tackle the number of falls among older people in its area, as part of the national service framework for older people.

Using a team of elderly community volunteers, the trust found that “sloppy slippers” were responsible for a number of falls.

Department of Health figures reveal that up to 14,000 people a year die in the UK as a result of a hip fracture and that 50% of older people who fall can no longer live independently.

The NHS spends £1.7bn a year on treating fractures from falling.

Les Gray, development manager for the national service framework for older people at Easington, said: “We looked at the research around the reasons why people fall and footwear was one of the reasons, with slippers being probably the worst offender.

“The reason that shop-bought slippers tend to be so poor is because they have very thin soles and flap about and people tend to stand on the back of them.”

The primary care trust negotiated a 75% discount – from £20 to £5 – on slippers with fastenings and strong soles that provide enough support to reduce the risk of tripping and slipping.

Around 100 pairs of slippers were distributed to residents in two local nursing homes, and staff were asked to monitor falls.

The slipper swap proved a “huge success”, said a spokesperson, with nursing homes reporting a significant drop in accidents.

Other initiatives adopted by the trust included providing inexpensive night-lights to help reduce the number of people who fall when getting up in the night.

A pilot site in Northampton introduced free tai chi classes to help older people improve their strength and balance.

The three pilot sites, which also include Gateshead, reported a combined drop of 60% in falls treated at local accident and emergency departments compared with the previous year.

The Health Minister, Stephen Ladyman, said: “Falls are bad news all round. Bad news for older people and bad news for the NHS. We can do an enormous amount to avoid them and a lot of it is just plain common sense.”

Detailed guidance on the prevention of falls by older people is being prepared by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

A detailed guidance and a consensus statement was developed in England and in Scotland we are working with the Scottish Government on developing a strategy that will focus on prevention but progress is very slow.

As we hurtle towards 2020 we know that there will simply not be public money, now or in the foreseeable future, to funds schemes like the Sloppy Slipper Scheme so we urge families to do what they can to make sure their elderly loved ones have a pair of slippers that will not endanger them.

It will also be down to families to look at the wider home environment and what to look out for to keep people safer longer.