Feb 20, 2024

Should special vehicle plates be created for older drivers?

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The idea of ‘S’ plates has been around for a while, but would they help or just pose a concern for age discrimination? [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • Queensland tyre specialist Tyre Geek analysed data from the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics of 1,266 road deaths and found drivers aged 80–89 had the “highest likelihood of dying in road accidents” at 9.2 deaths per 100,000 people 
  • Drivers aged 90–99 came in second with 7.7 deaths per 100,000 people
  • The data suggested older drivers were more likely to die from a road accident but that didn’t mean these drivers were the cause of these fatal accidents 

New data has reconfirmed older people are more likely to die on our roads than any other age group, so should mandatory plates be used to identify this cohort among other drivers? 

The argument has been bounced around by the media for some time but with Tyre Geek’s new research showing drivers aged between 80–89 were most likely to die after being involved in a road accident, fresh calls have been made for stronger measures to be enforced to protect older drivers. 

But would they help? Or is it age discrimination? 

After road statistics showed that 47 people 70 years and over died on the roads in 2014-2015 in Victoria, the suggestion of ‘S’ plates for older drivers was raised to monitor this cohort and make their presence known to other drivers.

Much like the learner ‘L’ and probationary ‘P’ plates that are used to identify novice drivers, the ‘S’ plate – to represent “senior” drivers – was a suggestion that would potentially replace the need for medical and driving tests.

4BC radio host and former Sky News Australia presenter Peter Gleeson took the polarising topic to the airwaves earlier this month, asking listeners for their opinions on S plates.

Mark, a 71-year-old listener phoned in and said he’d be happy to display an S plate on his car if others who frequently breached road rules were also made to display a plate notifying other drivers of their history. 

“If they’re going to do that, I want anybody who’s ever had their licence cancelled, suspended for exceeding their nine [demerit] points or anybody who’s ever lost their licence for drink driving […] I want them to have to permanently wear plates saying ‘I’m a bad driver’ as well. I think that’s fair,” he said.  

Driving education platform Murcotts Driving Excellence voiced its outrage at the idea of S plates on its website, claiming that even the statistics can be misleading. It said that reports often band all road incidents together, including those that involve pedestrians and passengers, which distorts the real picture of who and what causes road accidents.

“None of these ideas has anything to do with road safety, it’s just ageist discrimination,” a spokesperson wrote. 

The issue of mandatory regular assessments for all drivers was also raised by former Transport Matters Party MP Rod Barton this month on Oliver Peterson’s 6PR’s Perth Live radio show where he said the idea was “a little bit discriminatory”.

“We all have different standards, there’ll be some drivers that would have the necessary skills,” Mr Barton said on air.

“But there’s no doubt, and the data backs this up, that people lose their skills as we age. 

“When doing parliamentary work, we’ve been looking at doing more retesting as we get older. And I’ll use myself as an example. I got my licence when I was 18 and I’m now 65, and I’ve never been checked or tested since then.”

Instead of S plates, Mr Barton suggested more stringent and mandatory retesting measures which would see drivers 65 and under retested every 10 years, every five years for drivers aged between 65 and 80 and three-year testing for drivers over 80.

At the time of publishing, New South Wales is the only State that makes drivers 85 and above complete on-road testing every two years to keep an unrestricted licence.

NSW, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), Queensland and Western Australia drivers aged 75 and over require medical fitness approval from doctors and GPs to keep their licence. South Australian drivers aged 75 and over must submit an annual self-assessment of their driving capabilities and then may be required to undertake practical testing if their doctor determines it necessary.

Should older people be made to display S plates? Let us know your thoughts in the comments 

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  1. There are merits to both sides of this discussion, the main purpose as I see it is to increase safer driving for all road users.

    There would need to be a more through dissection of data before decisions are made regarding, cause, of accidents and the stats on the other vehicles involved including their age.

    Take the emotion out and make sure that any changes are for the right reasons and for the benefit of all.
    For example, I am 82, do not wear glasses, fit and healthy working full time.
    Certified by my Dr. as competent. Not sure I need a label!!

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