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Prince Philip – is 97 too old to be behind the wheel?

In the hours since news came through that the Duke of Edinburgh has been involved in a car accident, there has been much debate about whether the 97 year old prince should continue to drive on public roads. Police continue to investigate the incident and we don’t know what caused the collision right now. But, as often happens with accidents involving older motorists, it’s led to discussions about whether there should be an upper age limit on who can and can’t drive a car.

Described by one eyewitness as ‘’horrendous’’, the accident on Thursday afternoon, near to the Sandringham Estate, involved a Land Rover being driven by the Duke of Edinburgh and a Kia. The incident left the driver of the other car needing hospital treatment for cuts while her passenger sustained a broken wrist and a baby in the car was left in shock. The Duke of Edinburgh is also said to be very shaken but unhurt after being examined by doctors at Sandringham.

The Duke of Edinburgh is 97 and will turn 98 in less than five months’ time. He has been driving for around eight decades. In the summer of 2017, the DVLA revealed that the number of drivers in their 90s in the UK had topped 100, 000 for the first time. The Office of National Statistics’ most recent figures put the number of people in the UK aged 90 or over at 570,000 meaning around a fifth of them are legally allowed to drive. Philip is far from rare in getting behind the wheel.

However, the debate over an upper age limit for driving isn’t new. Driving licences in the UK automatically expire on a motorists’ 70th birthday.  They are easy to renew although drivers must continue to reapply for the licence every three years. And older drivers, like everyone licenced to get behind the wheel, must notify the DVLA of any medical conditions that might affect their ability to be safe on the road.

The DVLA has the right to ask for the driver to undergo assessments and, if it’s decided that a condition means car use isn’t safe, the licence has to be given up. On its website, the DVLA states that ‘’until you can meet the medical standards of fitness to drive again’’, your licence won’t be returned to you.

Often, the decision over whether to keep on driving as you get older is far less clear cut. We all know that as age advances, eyesight and reaction times suffer.  However, giving up the freedom that driving brings with it is a major moment for many older people. It’s a question that is now pressing for Prince Philip.

Some police forces advise relatives to chat to older drivers about staying on the road while local councils also take a lead on support. Norfolk County Council, which covers the Sandringham area where the accident took place, offers a special programme called Guidance for Older Drivers (GOLD), while motoring organisations also provide support and guidance. And Philip might still be able to drive on private land without a licence, should he decide to hand his in.

We should also be fair and say that until yesterday, Philip’s driving hadn’t been an issue. In fact, photos of Philip heading off for a private drive in royal grounds have been taken as a sign that all is well with the duke who has kept an increasingly low profile since officially retiring from public duties in August 2017.

However, one incident can make a big difference. While we don’t yet know what caused the accident, those questions about the 97 year old duke continuing behind the wheel are still being asked. This weekend he and several others are getting over what must have been a truly terrifying experience for all of them. It’s moments like that which can change everything.

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