Category B driving licences enabling a person to drive a car are valid for life in France, but a petition calling for this to change has now gained over 138,000 signatures.
It was started by Pauline Déroulède, who at the age of 27 was knocked down on a Parisian pavement by a 92-year-old driver who had lost control of his vehicle. She had to have her left leg amputated, and two other people were also seriously injured.
She is therefore calling for medical checks to be introduced for people who want to continue driving when their situation changes, whether because they are getting older or because they have begun taking different medication, for example.
“There exists a contrôle technique [roadworthiness test] for vehicles, so why not for drivers?” she asked L’Obs, suggesting that medical checks could be carried out every decade for all drivers, every two years for people aged 70 and above and every year for the over-80s.
Other European countries, including Denmark, Italy and Finland, already require drivers to renew their licence after a certain age, with the issuing of the permit depending on a medical check. Such a check is only necessary in France if you have a particular health condition such as diabetes.
Pierre Chasseray of drivers’ association 40 Millions d’automobilistes argued that the countries which do already have obligatory medical checks in place have not seen significant results in terms of road safety, and that only 17% of accidents in France are caused by the over-65s.
We asked Connexion readers for their opinions on the idea of introducing medical checks for older drivers in France. Here are some of the responses we received.
Elderly people ‘more experienced and cautious’
Jackie Castelino said: “Please no! I’m 74 and just got my French licence at last. Let me keep it a while longer.”
Michael Taylor commented: “I am 82 years old and continue to drive regularly from the UK to France. Witness the driving habits of some car and truck drivers en route and you may well pose the question: ‘Should all drivers be subject to regular testing to determine control and on-road behaviour?’
“Some older drivers, like many younger drivers, may need testing for eyesight, vehicle control and on-road behaviour, but the majority of us elders are more experienced, cautious and well aware of our insurer’s attitude to risky drivers.”
What about licence-free cars?
Mary Weall stated: “I find this annoying in the extreme. We have many people of all ages driving these tiny cars sans permis de conduire, and they now wish to penalise older drivers?
“Admittedly regular eyesight checks should be law, but otherwise for people living in rural areas it is essential they are able to drive.”
Another 74-year-old reader, who preferred not to be named in this article, said: “I dread to think how this will affect me and many other expats. I am in very good health and my eyes are tested every year. I have already been waiting three years for my request to exchange my UK licence for a French one to become a reality.
“I can only see more delays [if] health checks become necessary.”
‘Fully in favour’
Keith Howlett commented: “I am fully in favour of regular medicals for drivers, not just for old drivers, but for all.
“I know of at least one driver in their 50s that is not really medically fit to drive. I will be 80 next birthday; until the first Covid lockdown, I had to have regular medicals, latterly once every 12 months to keep my C & D categories.
“Since Covid I have had a medical check by my GP and I'm still more than fit enough to drive.
“Taking away one's driving licence should not be based on age but on fitness to drive as fitness varies so much regardless of age.”
‘Angry at the continued targeting of older people’
Pam Blackshaw said: “I am so angry at the continued targeting of older people in France, England and elsewhere related to their driving, when the evidence does not stand scrutiny to support this argument.
“Levels of discrimination against older people would not be tolerated in any other group of people.
“Older people of all groups could be severely isolated without their transport, most of whom have been driving without a break or accidents for many years as well as – like myself – updating with advanced driving lessons.”
She added that this reflects “prejudice” towards older drivers, who are “some of the safest and [most] capable” and “whose need is often greater than many regular drivers”.
There ‘definitely should be checks’
Jeff Wightman said “there definitely should be checks, say every two years,” while 83-year-old Adrienne Hoyle commented: “I would have no problem having an annual health/competence test.
“As it happens, both I and my husband (82) constantly monitor each other's driving (and our own) and thus far we both have fast reactions to potential problems.”
John Tompa, who is 80 years old, was also in favour, and said that drivers should undergo checks relating to their “physical capability – especially eyesight and reflexes,” knowledge of theory and practice, perhaps every five years after 60, or after 50 if they have experienced a relevant health issue.
He added that licences for older people could be “conditional”, only covering a certain radius around one’s home or banning nighttime driving, for example.
Susan Kelly commented: “I agree. No licence for life. It’s not too much to ask that people pass an eyesight test. I’d like to see tests of reaction time, short-term memory and manual dexterity too. But that might be a bridge too far.
“Judgement in elderly drivers is usually better than younger drivers. But, their speed of response can make the difference between having an accident/crash, or not.”
Jack Warshaw called the idea “unjustified discrimination against older people. Either everyone should be subject to regular checks or none.
“Older people are actually more likely to be mindful of their health and abilities than any other age group. They use medical services more and are more experienced at following proper medical advice and diagnosis.
“Needless to say also, they’re more experienced at driving, have fewer accidents and lower insurance premiums. Self declaration is not only fairer, but costs nothing. Who would be made to pay for a testing system, the target old people themselves?”
Another reader, who preferred not to be named, believed that medical checks for older drivers was “not a good idea”.
“I live in a department where the nearest railway station is 69km down the road. The nearest bus is 15 km down the road and a taxi return to the bus currently costs €60.
Most of the older people don't drive long distances but just the distance to the nearest bus stop or the nearest railway station. Are all these people to be isolated until they die?”