Is it unusual to see older bus drivers on the road?

By Lauren Potts
BBC News

  • Published
Bus driverImage source, Thinkstock
Image caption,
Finding an older driver at the helm of a bus might be a surprise to some, but it's not uncommon at all

Following a fatal bus crash in Coventry, it has emerged the driver of the vehicle was 77 years old. Some were surprised by Kailash Chander's age, but how unusual is it for older bus drivers to be on the road?

When you jump on a bus, who do you expect to see behind the wheel? Someone young? A person approaching middle-age? Or someone nearing retirement and beyond?

Finding an older driver at the helm might be a surprise to some, but in reality it's not uncommon at all.

There are more than four million people in Great Britain aged 70 or over in possession of a full driving licence.

And with no upper age limit restrictions for becoming a bus driver, many choose the profession as a post-retirement job option.

A study by workforce charity People 1st last year found the bus and coach industry was a "greying workforce", with 20% of all drivers falling between the ages of 60 and 64 and a further 9% over 65.

The cause of Saturday's accident has not been established, yet the fact bus driver Mr Chander is in his seventies has become a topic of conversation and speculation.

But why is anyone surprised to learn a man of his age was in charge of a public vehicle?

In figures

20%

Drivers aged between 60 and 64 in the bus and coach industry

  • 11,900 Motorists aged over 70 involved in accidents in 2014

  • 195,500 Total number of accidents on Britain's roads in 2014

  • 33,800 Number of drivers aged 40 to 49 involved in accidents in 2014

According to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, there is no evidence to suggest older drivers are more likely to cause a serious accident than others.

In fact, statistics show the exact opposite is true.

Figures from the Department for Transport show motorists aged over 70 were involved in just 11,906 accidents on Britain's roads last year - a fraction of the total 195,576 crashes.

That drivers over a certain age are more unsafe than others is an assumption perhaps rooted in the idea that age equals accidents, the AA said.

Image source, West Midlands Ambulance Service
Image caption,
It has not yet been established what caused the crash in Coventry

"Older people are an easy hit [but] in terms of the number of accidents they cause compared to drivers at the other end of the age scale, they're not a big danger," said a spokesman.

Currently, motorists who reach the age of 70 are required to renew their licence every three years. They must answer written questions about medical conditions and eyesight but they do not have to submit any proof.

The process relies on honesty and self reporting, but should this be changed in favour of more stringent regulations?

David Davis, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, said it would be "intrusive" to campaign for re-testing over a certain age.

"The thing that's worth bearing in mind about age and road safety is the risk is health, not age," he explained.

"You can have two people the same age, one entirely fit to drive and another that's not. That's why we don't recommend mandatory testing, because it would be unfair.

"Self reporting isn't perfect but the safety record in Britain is pretty good."

The rules differ slightly for bus drivers, who must undergo a medical examination every five years after reaching 45 years of age. Once they turn 65, they must take an annual medical exam which includes a vision assessment.

Road safety campaigners Brake agreed older drivers are statistically safer on the road than their younger counterparts as they are less likely to take risks, but called for tougher guidelines.

"Fitness to drive is the issue that needs to be addressed by the government, particularly by introducing compulsory eyesight tests whenever licences are renewed," said director Gary Rae.

Though the RAC Foundation described the safety record of older motorists as "enviable", it urged drivers to be aware of their capabilities as they age.

"Their frailty does mean they are disproportionately likely to be hurt in an accident, but not that they will cause them," said spokesman Philip Gomm.

"It is important that all motorists regularly consider their fitness to be behind the wheel, not simply when they hit a milestone birthday."

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