Ticket to drive The recent proposal to amend the Motor Vehicles Act to ban people over 72 from driving is neither necessary nor fair Sunanda Sen, 79, does not need to drive regularly. But he does take out his car occasionally to go to the neighbourhood market, bank or post office. So far he has been driving the short distances without any problems whatsoever. So naturally, Sen is piqued by the government’s recent proposal to stop issuing driving licences to those above 72 years of age. “The government should find out how many road accidents are caused by people over 72 and how many by those who are young. Older drivers are usually much more cautious and they drive slowly.” Sen and many other senior citizens make the point that such a blanket ban, if it were to be implemented, would be arbitrary and unfair as a person’s ability to drive depends on his or her state of health rather than his or her age. At present the law does not set any age limit for the renewal of driving licences. Says Protik Prokash Banerji, lawyer, Calcutta High Court, “Section 9 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, states the eligibility criteria for getting a driving licence. But it does not say anything about an age limit beyond which a licence cannot be issued.” Clause 14 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, states that for those under 40 years of age the licence to drive non-transport vehicles is to be issued or renewed for a period of 20 years, or until the date on which the holder attains 40 years of age. Thereafter, the licence would be renewed every five years. Section 15, Clause 1, of the current law does have a provision that gives the licensing authority the right to ask for a medical certificate if the person is over 40. The licence may not be renewed if the medical certificate is not favourable or if the person suffers from a disease or a disability that may make him unfit for driving safely. However, Sen says that rule is almost never followed. “I don’t remember having been asked to undergo a medical check up when I went to renew my driving licence the last couple of times.” Section 19 of the Act states that the licensing authority has the power to disqualify an individual from holding a licence or revoke the licence if he or she is a habitual criminal or a habitual drunkard, or is addicted to any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance. But even here there is no mention of old age as a probable cause for becoming ineligible for a driving licence or the renewal of a licence. In fact, countries like the US or the UK too do not fix any upper age limit for driving licences to be issued. Says Professor K. Ganapathy, former president, Neurological Society of India and president elect, Indian Society of Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery, “A person’s chronological age cannot be a criteria here. A 72-year-old could be biologically like a 50-year-old and vice versa. After the age of 60, physical and mental evaluation should be made mandatory once every two years till the age of 70, and then once a year till the age of 80. It should be once in 6 months till the age of 85, after which no driving licence should be issued.” Adds Rohit Baluja, president, Institute of Road Traffic Education (IRTE), New Delhi, “Seventy-two is a relatively young age these days. Whether or not one is able to drive depends on the health of the individual rather than his age.” Baluja, who represents India at the UN Global Road Safety Commission, also points out that an age-related ban would be even more difficult in smaller towns where there aren’t adequate facilities for transportation. “In such places people have to drive themselves and so the ban is sure to affect them adversely.” However, there are those who feel that there is some merit in making older citizens ineligible to drive. Suman Chattopadhyay, secretary general, Automobile Association of Eastern India (AAEI), points out, “The proposal has been made keeping in mind the health problems that generally crop up or are more pronounced in old age. Besides, one’s reflexes are no longer what they used to be in one’s younger days. The traffic in cities like Calcutta, Delhi or Mumbai is also not conducive to old age driving.” Baluja also concedes that the reflexes of a 70-year-old are not the same as that of a younger person. And since safe driving is primarily dependent on one’s reflexes, this may become a critical factor in old age. “Moreover, the older generation is not used to today’s heavy traffic.” But there is no denying that taking away a healthy elderly person’s right to drive could seriously affect his mobility. Many senior citizens live alone. If they were forbidden to drive their own vehicles, they would have to depend on drivers. And that could be a strain on their finances. That is why most experts feel that instead of issuing a blanket ban on their right to drive, older people should be made to undergo stringent and regular checks of key parameters like vision, reflexes and hearing to see if they are fit to drive. Says Banerji, “These parameters should be checked every year. In recent years, the most common cause of accidents has been driving under the influence of liquor and rash driving by younger people. They were not caused by people over 72 years of age.” Harman Sidhu of Arrive Safe, a Chandigarh-based non governmental organisation that educates people about road safety, says, “Not only should the interval between medical tests be reduced, old people should not be allowed to drive at night and beyond a certain speed limit.” So rather than banning older citizens from driving, maybe it is time to plug the loopholes in existing laws so as to make sure that no matter what their age, people are physically and mentally fit to drive safely. Is the government listening?