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Should older drivers in France be required to take a medical test?

The long-running debate has been relaunched by campaigner and tennis Paralympian Pauline Déroulède, who lost her leg in 2018 after an accident caused by a 92-year-old

An older woman at the wheel of a car

Older drivers in France do not currently have to take a medical test or otherwise to continue to hold their licence Pic: JPC-PROD / Shutterstock

A debate over whether older drivers should be made to pass a medical test has been relaunched in France, amid news that a commune in eastern France is offering free refresher lessons to over-65s.

Campaigner and tennis champion Pauline Déroulède had her leg amputated after a serious accident in 2018, in which a 92-year-old man hit her after losing control of his car. Ms Déroulède was sitting on her scooter, not moving, at the time.

She said: “In 2018, this 92-year-old man ran me over when I was sitting, stopped, on my scooter. This man simply lost control of his vehicle because of his advanced age. I had my left leg ripped off on impact.”

In France, 64% of people aged 65 and over own a vehicle, although statistics show that only 10% of fatal accidents involve a driver of that age group (compared to 19% among 18-24-year-olds).

Now, Ms Déroulède is calling for “the question of driving ability to be opened up” and for “France to join other European countries in requiring a medical check-up in certain high-risk cases: old age or taking medication”. 

In France, only people suffering from certain illnesses have to undergo periodic medical checks, after which the renewal of their driving licence may be limited or refused. 

In some European countries, including Italy, Portugal and Greece, driving licences can only be renewed above age 50 (and age 65 in Greece) if the drivers have medical tests to ensure they are still fit to drive.

In Hungary, all drivers aged 40 and above must have regular medical tests.

A poll by OpinionWay found that 79% of people in France are in favour of older people being required to take a professional test to maintain their licence, and 75% are in favour of the establishment of a mandatory medical test in order for older people to have their licence renewed.

Read more: 75% of people polled back medical exam for senior drivers in France 

Ms Déroulède said: “Too many drivers [in France] are still getting behind the wheel when they are not fit. It is time for this to stop. The aim of this campaign is to make as many people as possible aware of these preventable accidents ”

As well as campaigning on this cause, the tennis champion is also hoping to medal at the Paris 2024 Paralympics.

Free refresher lessons

It comes as drivers aged 65 and over in Bas-Rhin, eastern France, are being offered refresher courses by the local authority to help update their driving skills and improve their safety on the roads. 

The courses are free to participants (paid for by the Bas-Rhin prefecture), and anyone who lives in the department can sign up via their local authority office. There are already 20 people signed up for the next course in Saverne.

The lesson includes an update on road signs, speed limits, the effects of alcohol, and how to stay alert to distractions, including noise and physical hazards; and reaction times, which can slow down with age.

There is also a section on how medication can affect your concentration, with a particular focus on medicines that are more common among older people – such as painkillers, hypertension drugs, diabetes treatment, and medicines for urinary tract conditions.

Participants are then offered a test at the end, with around 40 questions, to check their competence and reiterate the principles.

Jacques Munsch, one of the course leaders, said: “There is a lot of demand, and we’re happy to offer it. People seem to be very open to it.”

Read more: Drivers aged 65 and over offered free refresher courses in east France 

Yet, in 2019, then-Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne ruled out the possibility of requiring senior drivers to undergo a medical test, or for their driving licences to be restricted in any way.

French law already states that people with a medical condition that could affect their driving should not be able to drive, and must declare any new conditions. For example, in the event of severe epilepsy or diabetes, people found to be at risk can have their licence taken away or not renewed.

Drivers must declare all medical states that could affect their driving. If they do not, and there is an accident, they risk being found personally entirely responsible for the incident.

Under article R. 221-14 of the French road code, la code de la route, relatives of drivers who may pose a risk are already enabled to declare their relative’s medical problem for them, and require the relative to take a medical test to prove that they may (or may not) keep their licence.

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