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Licensing Laws For Elderly Drivers Look Set In Stone Despite Fresh Push

There are calls for states and territories around the country to toughen driver licensing laws in a bid to save lives.

It's been one year since six-year-old Indie Armstrong was hit and killed by an elderly driver who lost control of her vehicle in a carpark in South East Queensland.

The woman, 86, was reversing her hatchback when she hit the accelerator and ploughed into Indie, her sister Lily, 8, and their grandmother Sandy Bampton, who were waiting to cross the road at Nambour Coles.

While Sandy and Lily suffered serious leg injuries, Indie lost her life.

The woman behind the wheel, Miriam Grace Paton, was charged over the incident, but died before she could front court.

Indie Armstrong. Photo: AAP

Since the incident, the victims' family has been pushing for law changes that would force any driver over the age of 75 to undergo a physical driving test and a written exam every year to retain their driver's licence.

It's a call that has been echoed around the country on and off for some time, but there is no national standard for when older Australians are required to prove their continuing eligibility to drive.

Each state has different guidelines, so what's the go in your state?

QUEENSLAND

Anyone 75 and over who holds a Queensland drivers licence must carry a current medical certificate at all times.

There is no practical test.

NEW SOUTH WALES

There are similar rules south of the border.

Drivers aged between 75 and 84 need to undergo a medical review each year to ensure they are fit to get behind the wheel.

Those aged over 85 need to undergo a medical assessment and also a practical driving test every two years to keep an unrestricted licence.

Those who choose to take out a modified licence, which adds conditions such as driving only within a certain distance of your home, or only at certain times of the day, do not need to undergo a practical test.

VICTORIA

There are no regular medical checks or practical driving tests required unless referred by a doctor, family members or police.

Vic Roads suggests older drivers gradually transition from regular driving to using alternative transport options.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

Similar to Queensland, drivers over the age of 75 in SA need to be medically fit to drive a car. The age limit lowers to 70 for those holding a licence class other than a car.

No practical test is required.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

When a driver turns 80 and every year after, they will need to take a medical examination to ensure they are fit to drive. If a doctor is concerned, they can recommend a person take a Practical Driving Assessment.

TASMANIA

Drivers aged 75 years and over in Tasmania no longer need to undertake an annual medical assessment to keep their licence. Authorities cite that older drivers are "significantly under-represented" in crash statistics and are "particularly sensible decision makers." It's recommended that drivers self-assess their ability and make sensible decisions as to when and where they should drive.

NORTHERN TERRITORY

There are absolutely no conditions for older drivers in the Top End. If a member of the public or an NT police officer writes to the Registrar of Motor Vehicles concerned about a person's fitness to drive, that person will need to undergo a medical assessment.

There are no blanket rules for elderly drivers in Australia. Photo: GETTY

While there are concerns about the fitness of some older people, Australian Road Safety Foundation CEO Russell White has told 10 daily that young drivers are just as risky as elderly ones.

"A lot of the problems we end up seeing as people get older are quite often habits or issues that have been developed over a period of time," he said.

"The younger driver is a greater risk, certainly on their P-plates, and that’s due to inexperience. What tends to happen is that crash risk drops down once that person is 25 and then it tends to remain reasonably static until someone reaches the age of their early 50s, and then that graph starts to climb again."

He's called for more education and review opportunities from a younger age.

"We’ve got to look at ways we deliver coaching across someone’s entire driving career, rather than just trying to effectively put a band-aid on something so that we’re not trying to deal with [the issue] once it’s probably a little bit too late," he said.

White explained that when people age, they tend to overestimate their abilities rather than taking a harder look at themselves.

"[People need to ask] are we really fit to drive or have we got issues that need to be addressed to make sure we’re fit to drive?" he said.

Fatal crashes involving elderly drivers have been rising for over a decade, according to an ABC report in 2018.

An analysis of data from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics found fatalities involving drivers aged 75 or over had increased by one percent each year since 2007.

A number of states require elderly drivers to pass a medical check Photo: Getty

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But while the number of older Australians involved in crashes is on the rise, the number of road crashes as a whole is heading in the other direction.

According to the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, there were 1,204 deaths on roads across Australia during the 12 months ended May 2019 -- a 3.3 percent decrease on the previous year.

So, should we expect to see any law changes soon?

No. Particularly not in Queensland, where Indie Armstrong's family is pushing for reform.

"Current laws already recognise the physical and mental changes that can come with ageing by requiring Queensland licence holders aged 75 or older to carry, and drive in accordance with, a current medical certificate," Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey said in a statement to 10 daily.

"We have no plans to add to those measures and introduce mandatory testing.

"Many older drivers have decades of driving experience and are far less likely to be involved in crashes involving death or severe injury than younger drivers in terms of Queensland’s road crash statistics."