Would you trust an 80-year-old taxi driver?

New research suggesting older drivers are more dangerous than those in their 20s has created a furore when it comes to taxi licensing laws. Data compiled by UK motor insurers suggests drivers in the 55 to 64-year-old age bracket are the worst offenders when it comes to a lack of knowledge on the Highway Code.

Around three-quarters of older drivers don’t keep up to speed with any changes to the Highway Code, while more than one-third believe their driving is so good that they don’t need to change anything. This in itself makes them a danger, as they refuse to adapt to potential hazards on the roads, always believing they are right.

On the other hand, drivers aged between 18 to 24 are said to be more knowledgeable on the remits of the Highway Code. They also tend to have more awareness of hazards, such as adverse weather conditions, poor visibility, following a one-way system and navigating roundabouts.

Around 40% of young drivers said they were aware of the hazards of driving on today’s busy roads. Motorists aged 25 to 34 were said to be the second-safest age group in terms of hazard awareness. Older drivers are described as being “too complacent”, becoming increasingly unaware of the possible driving dangers and ploughing on regardless.

No age limits

The findings question whether it is acceptable for older motorists to be allowed to drive taxis, as currently, there is no upper age limit on becoming a taxi driver. As long as they meet other licensing requirements – in terms of their driving licence and general health – someone in their 80s could legally become a cabbie.

The research has prompted a flurry of online debate on social media sites, with people supporting both sides of the argument. Critics of older drivers said they were likely to have slower reaction times – but young drivers were accused of having a gung-ho attitude to driving, being more likely to speed.

One thread questioned why there was no upper age limit for taxi drivers – including in the London area, one of the busiest cities in the world – if they posed a higher risk. In fact, in support of younger drivers being safer, the question was asked, “Would you trust an 80-year-old taxi driver?”

Taxi drivers’ average age

The total number of taxis on the roads in England has steadily increased from 184,500 in 2005 to more than 291,800 today. There are 365,000 licensed taxi drivers today, compared with 242,000 in 2005.

According to statistics from the Department for Transport, 40% of taxi and private hire vehicle drivers in the UK are aged 50-plus.

The number of accidents in an average year is nine per 1,000 taxi drivers. This compares with 4.5 accidents per 1,000 regular cars. This is why specialist cheap taxi insurance is required, due to the nature of the job.

Research carried out in 2020 suggests feeling fatigued and night driving are two of the major risk factors for older taxi drivers aged 60-plus.

In this age group, driving at night, between 8 pm and midnight, increases the risk of accidents by 4%. Driving between midnight and 6 am increases the risk by 2.6%. Crashes involving taxi drivers aged 60 years and older that result in injury account for 5.9% of total crashes.

The injury rate for drivers aged 75 years and above is twice as high as the national average, according to data from EU Mobility and Transport.

Medical assessments

Some road safety pressure groups are suggesting, in addition to the mandatory physical examination, further medical tests should be introduced for drivers aged 60 and above in order to renew their taxi driver’s licence. These include a cognitive impairment assessment and a sleep apnoea test.

However, on the other side of the coin, 40% of UK drivers have crashed by the time they are 23 years old, according to the AA Charitable Trust. In addition, drivers aged 20 to 29 years old are 65% more likely to suffer a serious injury than drivers aged 40 to 49, because they tend to drive faster.

Currently, in order to apply for a licence, taxi drivers need to be at least 18 years old at the time of applying. However, they can’t be licensed until they are 21 years old. There is no upper age limit, although applicants must meet the other licensing requirements.

They must have a full driving licence, issued by the DVLA, in Northern Ireland, or by any other European Economic Area state. They must have the right to live and work in the UK and must meet medical and character requirements.

Applicants must undertake an enhanced criminal records check, via the Disclosure and Barring Service, to prove they are of good character.

They must prove they are medically fit and must meet the DVLA Group 2 medical standards. This means applicants must undergo a medical examination with a professional who has access to their full medical history.

Older and safer?

This is where road safety pressure groups feel the medical tests don’t go far enough. Mental and physical changes related to ageing can make driving more challenging as we get older. However, at the same time, the way older drivers react can increase their safety on the roads, according to the IAM “Older Drivers – Safe or Unsafe” study.

The research reveals drivers in their 50s can be safer than their younger counterparts because they have an experienced attitude to safety and drive more defensively, rather than aggressively. Yet this attitude is countered by the fact they are more likely to make relatively simple mistakes as they get older.

In a society where we have an ageing population, it seems likely that in future, more drivers in their 70s and 80s will still be on the roads – and it follows that some may have taxi driving jobs if the current rule for no upper age limit isn’t amended.

The question is, can they be relied on to continue to drive safely, or should more regulations and checks limit the number of older taxi drivers on the roads?

One suggestion is another driving test, after which older drivers will be given information showing when, where and why they have created a risk. Then, a tailor-made assessment and specific advice can be given, showing them how to avoid the pitfalls and improve their driving skills.