Police issue eyesight warning to elderly drivers after pensioner plunges car into water

Dr Hilary discusses the risks for older drivers

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A 70-year-old pensioner from Southampton decided to go for a drive around the New Forest on the evening of February 2 earlier this year. After several hours, he tried to complete a turn in the road, but ended up plunged in the water near Lymington.

Nearby residents helped rescue the man and took him to hospital where he was later diagnosed with vascular dementia.

This is a gradual and deteriorating condition which presents as episodes of confusion.

As a result of the incident, the man has since surrendered his driving licence.

Sergeant Nick Tucker, of Hampshire police, said: “We all grow older and our eyesight and some of our abilities diminish over the course of time.

“We do not always know, notice or realise that this is happening to us over the years.

“If you have an older relative or friend who drives, speak to them about their driving and how they feel about it.

“Remind and encourage them to have their eyesight routinely checked and if they have any concerns about their health, have them speak to their GP about driving.

“With the support of this driver and his family we wanted to highlight this incident to show the real life implications of growing older and driving.

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“He surrendered his driving licence with dignity. It is lucky that he did not lose his life that evening.”

Almost half of drivers do not realise that it is illegal to drive without their prescribed distance glasses or contact lenses, with one in four admitting having done this.

According to the data from the College of Optometrists, 36 percent of drivers said they had simply forgotten.

A further 20 percent said they found them uncomfortable, and one-in-seven don’t want to admit that they need to wear glasses.

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Motorists can be fined up to £1,000 if they do not tell the DVLA about a medical condition that affects their driving.

Sergeant Tucker also spoke about the police force’s collaboration with the Older Drivers Forum who work to keep mature motorists on the road safely for longer.

He added: “Whether that’s helping by giving practical and informative help and support to continue driving or pointing people in the right direction for an assessment to identify their driving needs – from wing mirror adapters to an elevated driving seat – the Forum’s here to help and signpost you to the people to help.

“The Forum is a not-for-profit organisation made up of experts in road safety – from representatives from the emergency services, to charities, local authorities and businesses specialising in keeping older people on the road.”

Elderly drivers are also at risk of fines and other punishments as a number of conditions including presbyopia, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMG) can all get worse with old age. 

If left untreated, these conditions can all cause major issues for drivers, obstructing their vision and creating hazardous situations for themselves, other drivers and pedestrians.

Sergeant Dave Hazlett, continued, saying: “The key message is about not becoming complacent about our driving. 

“We know that many older drivers have a wealth of experience however as we get older our sight, hearing, reaction times and judgement of speed and distance may not be as sharp as it once was.

“We often pick up bad habits which become the norm without being aware of it.

“The Older Drivers Forum can help by giving advice on voluntary driving appraisals to suit your needs or build confidence.

“Our advice is don’t wait until you have a near miss, or worse, an accident to convince you to review your driving ability or to stop driving.

“Instead take preventative measures by planning ahead and seeking advice and support early.”

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