Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

compulsory retesting

On 10 November 2012, just after 8pm, I left my friends’ house in northwest London, a happily married 33-year-old father. It was then that I heard my wife, Desreen, speak her final words: ‘I’m so proud of him,’ she said of our two-year-old son, Jackson.

Seconds later a car mounted the pavement and struck Desreen. It was a pensioner who’d mistaken the accelerator for the brake, and was going 54 miles per hour in a 20 zone. In that moment I became a widower.

The judge who sentenced the 85-year-old driver who killed my wife said; ‘An elderly driver who knows, or should acknowledge, that he or she is losing his or her faculties is no less a danger than a drunken driver who knows the same.’

I agree, that’s why I’ve started this petition calling for people over 70 to undergo compulsory retesting to keep their driving licence.

Right now when drivers turn 70 they can renew their licence every three years by filling in a self assessment form. No one assesses an older person’s driving skills or reactions, no one checks their eyesight or hearing, no one sees if their reactions are still sharp enough to stop in an emergency.

Despite this, some officials are recommending that in order to save costs, people shouldn’t have to renew their licence until they are 80.

I know the human cost of unfit drivers on the road and I never want anyone to go through a tragedy like the one that has decimated my family.

So I am asking you to sign and support my petition for the Secretary of State for Transport to introduce compulsory age-appropriate retesting every three years once a driver turns 70.

In the longer term, the Government should be making plans so they can support the mobility of elderly people, whose response rates are proven to diminish with age, not simply by keeping car keys in their hands, but through improved public transport, infrastructure and inclusion.

Please help me with this.

Thank you,

Ben

31 comments on “compulsory retesting

  1. Sara Fernandez
    November 8, 2015

    Done. She will be so proud

    >

  2. Michael J Lee
    November 8, 2015

    I would support that also for the under 25’s who are responsible for most of the death and destruction our roads as it was when we lost my niece aged 16 on Christmas Eve… That ended Christmas for her family as it changed it for us too.

    Regards Michael

    Sent from my iPad

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  3. Kim
    November 8, 2015

    I agree – retesting should be compulsory. If people value their licences, they should be willing to do the retesting. I’m 51 and although I’m not old, I’ve noticed subtle changes in eyesight, mobility and memory. No-one at 70 is as sharp as they were at 30 or 40. I also agree that young male drivers need to be more closely monitored – all that aggression and arrogance – should not be played out on our roads!

  4. Suzanne Wilkinson
    November 8, 2015

    Hi, Ben, I have already signed your petition through change.org. I couldn’t agree more with compulsory retesting. I speak as someone who has recently put myself on driving ban due to health issues (depression, anxiety and anorexia) and the DVLA has made this official now. I also agree that public transport should be improved to support those who cannot drive. I live in Warwick and there are buses about twice a day – well, I exaggerate slightly, but you know what I mean. Wishing you the very best of luck with the petition and I am sure you will keep us posted. Also sending you love and hugs for the upcoming “anniversary”. You think they’d get easier – they don’t 😦 Suzanne Wilkinson

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  5. Caroline Bennett
    November 9, 2015

    All done and shared on FB Ben. A very worthwhile cause – I had to drive my father’s car away as he was nearly blind. Now at 65 I am only too aware of the risks and have made my family promise to let me know if they see any deterioration in my reaction times etc – I will cheerfully hand over my car keys. Good luck with the petition – and the anniversary. My 2-year anniversary comes up in 4 weeks – I know how hard it feels.

  6. Julian Roach
    November 9, 2015

    I could not say ‘yes’ Ben, as you don’t say what you mean by ‘testing’. If that means the full test that new drivers take, then I feel pretty sure that most drivers – even you and I – would probably fail if asked to take it again today, but that doesn’t make us all unacceptably dangerous and it is not the way to go. You are right to say we need something better than self-declaration for the over 70’s. ( I admit to 70, by the way .) Pilots, even of light aircraft, are required to undergo a medical at intervals that increase in frequency with age. As drivers of cars represent a vastly greater danger to the public than pilots of small aeroplanes, it would surely be reasonable to suggest a similar system, beginning much earlier than age 70, though from then on a three-yearly interval would not be too frequent. Your story wrenches the heart. No one could see the pictures of your beautiful family and fail to understand your passion about this.

    • Life as a Widower
      November 9, 2015

      Hi Julian. Thanks your comment. What I’m calling for is age-appropriate testing, so not the same test a 17-year-old could take. What that is needs to be determined by experts. This is meant to be a first step towards that.

  7. Jocky
    November 10, 2015

    Every three years after 70 is too often. I can understand one at 70, one at 75 and then three years thereafter, but frankly you may be tested on 1 January 2016 and become incompetent in March 2016. A compulsory test doesn’t solve that problem, only self awareness and that of those around you can do that,.

    • Life as a Widower
      November 10, 2015

      I’m asking for age-appropriate testing. What that is needs to be determined by experts. I hear from so many people who say they haven’t been able to persuade relatives to stop driving or that their relationships have been affected when they have. This helps make it policy rather than personal.

      • Andrew Petcher
        November 10, 2015

        It is a fair point that you make but it is inappropriate to randomly think of an age and demand action at that point. Why not 65? Why not 100? Will you give up driving at 70?

      • Life as a Widower
        November 10, 2015

        It’s not been selected randomly. You currently have to reapply for your driving licence every three years from 70. For now, I’m mirroring that policy but aiming for it to be based on more than self assessment, which I think is inadequate. It’s for the government and DVLA to determine whether the age they currently work around is still appropriate. And I’ve already given up driving. I’m 36.

      • Andrew Petcher
        November 11, 2015

        As I say I am sorry for your loss in a tragic accident but your ill-judged campaign will fail and so it should. What about banning pregnant ladies from driving, they know that at any time they could have a contraction causing loss of car control, what about banning anyone on any form of medication from driving, what about banning everyone who has a cold in case they sneeze, what about banning everyone from driving because at any time they could have a heart attack, stroke etc, how many regulations do you want, I think that we’ve got more than enough, bad drivers are just bad drivers no matter how old they are.

      • Life as a Widower
        November 11, 2015

        I’m proposing a test, not a ban

      • Andrew Petcher
        November 11, 2015

        A crazy idea nevertheless. Where would it stop? And no Government is going to risk upsetting the pensioner voting block anyway.

      • Life as a Widower
        November 11, 2015

        Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate you taking the time.

  8. Clare
    November 10, 2015

    Ben, firstly my sincere condolences to you , your family and friends on the loss of your beautiful wife; thank you for doing something so amazing, your strength in organising the petition is humbling. Well done!
    I work with the elderly, in a rehabilitation ward, often there goal is to be driving again.It is something I feel very strongly about, often these patients have problems dressing themselves, yet legally they can drive…often they have the onset of dementia, again they are driving. There needs to be more ownership taken by the medical profession, it should be standard after a hospital stay or diagnosis to arrange testing,I can never understand why as a country, we have continued to sweep this problem under the carpet …common sense seems to have been lacking for far to long.
    P’s. .your wife would be so proud. X

  9. Sharlan
    November 10, 2015

    Totally support this, I know lots of elderly people who would also support this, if not for others safety, but for theirs too. Your wife would be so proud. I would have thought this test would be common sense to do especially as when you get older, responses and eyes are tending to become poorer.

  10. Andrew Petcher
    November 10, 2015

    Sorry for your loss and your anger but this is not the answer. Bad driving has nothing to do with age.

    • Life as a Widower
      November 10, 2015

      I’m not angry and dangerous driving absolutely can have something to do with age, whether young or old.

      • Andrew Petcher
        November 10, 2015

        So retest everyone every three years then?

      • Life as a Widower
        November 10, 2015

        If that’s what a review finds to be most appropriate. I’m completely open to the debate. For now, I’ve just mirrored existing policy because it feels like a more realistic start point.

  11. Gordon Zola
    November 10, 2015

    Data shows that drivers under the age of 20 have more fatal accidents than drivers over 75, though there is some evidence to suggest drivers over the age of 80 are at an increased risk of accidents.

  12. Dino
    November 11, 2015

    Sorry for your loss!

    My father-in-law is 75 and I refuse to get in a car with him driving, he’s dangerous but thinks he’s a good driver. Maybe he was a good driver once but he isn’t now!

  13. handikwani02
    November 11, 2015

    I agree that a test will determine whether or not a person at that age is still competent to be on the road. I also hope that counselling services can be put in place alongside the test to assure them that it is being done for the good of all and of themselves.

  14. victoriawhyte
    November 12, 2015

    Signed and shared your post on Facebook – well done you Ben – I’m sure it’s been a week of many mixed emotions xx

  15. Sarah Lovatt
    November 12, 2015

    Signed and shared on Facebook. I just saw you on BBC Breakfast – you are very brave to work at getting this problem fixed. A form that the driver themselves fills out is, basically, pointless.

    My friend lost his leg when he was younger, due to an elderly driver pulling out of a side road – the elderly driver was medically unfit to drive but was still not punished in any way.

    I also agree strongly with one of the comments on Breakfast this morning, from a viewer, who said that doctors should be able to inform the DVLA if anyone – of any age – is medically unfit to drive.

  16. L Cross
    November 12, 2015

    I am deeply sorry at your and your son’s loss. Nothing can ever bring your wife, his mother back and there is so much that you will never have over the years. However retesting is not the answer. There are people of all ages who cause mayhem on the roads and devastate families. It is the media who focus on the elderly drivers’ accidents. If you look at the statistics you will see that older people cause far fewer accidents and are much safer on the roads than any other group. There are already many safeguards in place but not enough is done to enforce them – hence the accident with the driver of the bin lorry in Glasgow who was only in his 50s but failed to reveal his medical condition. A retest is just a snapshot, people can deteriorate rapidly or not even know they have a medical condition which can affect their ability to drive no matter what their age.

  17. Ian Wood
    December 17, 2015

    I really appreciated your comments on Daily Politics today about how the decision whether an older person should drive is left in the hands of the families. I thought my dad should have stopped driving a few years before he did – due to Alzheimers – but my mum insisted he was safe to drive, despite him having frequent incidents.

    It split the family and would have been much better if his suitability to drive was left to a third party.

    I did speak to my dad’s consultant but was told it wasn’t anything to do with her and was up to my mum and I. She even recommended that he shouldn’t drive in the city, or on motorways but was ok to drive around their small town – an attitude I found shocking.

    I’m pleased to say no one was harmed and my dad stopped driving a year ago but it was a worrying time.

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