Regulations on the renewal of driving licences for people over 65 are set to be reviewed following concerns raised at the Ministry of Internal Administration regarding the high rate of accidents among pensioners. The move came after delegates from the Ministry of Health attended a recent meeting of those in charge of the National Road Accident Prevention Plan, where worrying accident data highlighted the need to make the renewal tests more rigorous.
The government advisors also discussed the idea of lowering the age that drivers need to reapply for licences down from 65 to 60. In spite of Portuguese drivers having to renew their licences at 65 – earlier than most other European Union countries – statistics reveal that old people are still perpetrating more mistakes in their driving, a fact that is leading authorities to seek an overhaul of the whole process. The conduct of some doctors is also being examined, in particular their assessment of an elderly person’s suitability to drive and their prescription of medicines that could cause recipients to experience damaging side effects at the wheel.
The National Institute of Legal Medicine (IML) has discovered that, when autopsies are carried out on elderly victims of traffic accidents, a high number are revealed to have taken medicines. Although the president of the IML, Duarte Nuno Vieira, admits “it is difficult to gauge at what precise point the medicine has any influence on the accident rate”, there are many doctors who do warn patients about the negative effects of driving under medication. Certain medicines can affect a driver’s physical and intellectual capacity, causing dizziness, delayed reflexes, drowsiness and auditory and visual disturbances.
Although detailed statistics relating to elderly drivers are not available, in most recent cases the offenders have been male. Recent examples of elderly drivers having accidents include that of 71-year-old Maria Antunes who collided with two vehicles while driving on the wrong side of the street, killing herself and two others. Then there was 78-year-old Francico Belo, who was driving his Fiat Uno on the A23, near Torres Novas. Belo suddenly realised he was driving in the wrong direction and turned round, resulting in a fatal collision with another vehicle that killed him, his daughter and the driver of the other car.