Surge in senior drivers: UK sees record number of drivers over 70

Older senior man with big grey beard driving a car

According to figures, Britain has seen a record number of drivers over the age of 70, with around two million more than a decade ago.

In the last 12 months, there has been a four per cent increase in the number of people aged 70 or over with full licences in the UK. This is a rise of more than 212,000 motorists, to almost six million in total.

The number of drivers 70 and above has jumped by a huge 53 per cent compared to a decade ago.

The Department of Transport and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency revealed that 41,570,822 people held a full UK driving licence in the UK in February, when analysing its most recent data. 

Compared to this time last year (41,075,262), there are almost half a million (495,560) more qualified motorists on the roads today.

An analysis of the latest data by leasing company LeaseLoco discovered that the country’s ageing population is being reflected by an increase in senior drivers.

According to the study, 5,967,076 or 14%, or around one in seven, of all licenced drivers in Britain are over the age of 70.

Astonishingly, the stats show there are over two million additional 70-plus motorists on the road compared to a decade ago, despite there being strict rules in place requiring drivers over this age to renew their licence every three years.

In February 2023, there were 5,967,076 drivers who were over 70 overall, up from just 3,902,135 in 2012.

The number of people aged 80 or over with a full driving licence has increased by almost 100,000 (94,818) compared to a year ago, according to DVLA figures.

In the last 12 months, the numbers have grown by 6 per cent and are now at 1,649,277, which is around 4 per cent of all qualified motorists.

Only 1,059,683 drivers over the age of 80 had full licences ten years ago; as a result, the number has increased by 56%.

Regarding the over 90s, it’s a similar story, with numbers jumping by 93 per cent in a decade to 137,281 individuals this year.

The drivers over 100

And, very remarkably, 510 drivers with full licences at the ripe age of 100 or older are included on DVLA records for February. There were just 162 in 2012, a 215 percent rise in population.

Road casualty statistics related to various age groups were examined in a 2021 report by safety charity RoSPA that evaluated the danger factor of older drivers.

Using data from 2019, it was discovered that over-60 deaths and injuries of all severity were declining, though more slowly than for other age groups.

The report said: “The risk of being involved in a road accident increases after the age of 70 years, but up to that age, drivers are no more likely to cause a crash than to be the victim of another road user’s mistake.

“However, drivers over 70 years, and especially over 80 years, are more likely to be at fault when they crash.”

Having uncovered the rise in senior motorists on the road in the last 10 years, John Wilmot, CEO of LeaseLoco, said: “The number of qualified drivers on UK roads has reached record levels, showing that travelling by car continues to be the main and most convenient form of transport, particularly for older people.

“Having a car also allows many older people to feel socially connected.

“That’s especially true in more rural areas, where public transport can be unreliable.”

Why older people over 70 need to renew their licence every three years

From 90 days before they turn 70, the DVLA will send a motorist a ‘D46P’ application notifying them they will need to complete the document in order to renew their driving licence – at no cost.

This is done to make sure that elderly drivers are healthy enough to continue driving and are free from conditions that can impair their ability to do so.

Additionally, licence renewals may be completed online, which processes faster than mail-in renewals, or by utilising a Post Office “D1” document. 

Their licence will expire for those who fail to renew at the age of 70 and every three years thereafter, resulting in the person not being able to legally drive.

When renewing, drivers over 70 are required to disclose any medical issues and attest that their vision meets the requirements for driving. 

The DVLA will then decide based on the information provided whether a person can keep their licence and – with the driver’s consent – may contact their GP or consultant or arrange for a local doctor to conduct an examination to determine if they can safely continue operating a vehicle.

The agency can also ask senior motorists to take a driving assessment, driving appraisal or eyesight test.

RoSPA’s 2021 Older Driver Policy Paper states: “Older drivers are commonly involved in collisions at junctions, often because they misjudge the speed/distance of other vehicles or fail to see a hazard. Visual impairment may be a factor in this type of crash.”

“Due to their more fragile health and physical condition, older drivers are more likely to suffer injuries when they crash and/or to take longer to recover from their injuries.”

Failure to provide the DVLA with accurate medical information may result in a fine of up to £1,000, the cancellation of insurance, and legal action should the driver be involved in an accident.

What about the number of younger drivers?

The latest DVLA figures reveal the impact of huge delays to sit driving tests and the cost of living crisis on the number of young people (aged 16 to 25) with full driving licences.

The number of young people qualified to drive fell to 2.97 million during Covid, the lowest level on record (taking DVLA records dating back to 2012), a decrease from 3.32 million in March 2020, just before Covid started.

After Covid, fewer than three million young people currently possess a complete driver’s licence, largely because of the enormous backlog of students awaiting test dates.

The DVSA has tried to alleviate the backlog created by Covid lockdowns, but so far it has been ineffective. It has increased testing hours, brought older invigilators out of retirement, and introduced new norms and requirements.

The agency’s most recent effort is to make people wait to take the test until they are completely prepared to do so by doubling the time they have to rebook the exam after failing one, from 10 to 28 days.

However, according to government statistics, the average wait period for a driving test is now more than three and a half months, roughly double what it was in 2020.

The latest DVLA data shows there are 2,977,624 qualified drivers aged 16 to 25, a small increase of just over 6,000 compared to two years ago.

LeaseLoco says that the increased cost of living is likely contributing to this stagnating development because many young people are unwilling or unable to afford to maintain a car or to pay for driving lessons.

“The low growth amongst younger people is not surprising when you consider the impact that the cost of living crisis is having. The rise in people working from home may also have played a role,” Mr Wilmot said.

“However, we would expect numbers to rise substantially when costs associated with owning and running a car become more manageable.”

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