Drivers in France may soon need a health check every 15 years in order to keep their licence, if a new EU directive passes.
The directive is currently being debated among European Union institutions, and comes after the EU committed to a ‘zero-mortality’ objective on European roads by 2050.
Requiring drivers to pass a medical check every 15 years - and at the point when they first receive their licence - is one of the many proposals suggested by the European Commission to achieve this goal.
The proposal would also require drivers aged 70 or over to pass a medical check every five years.
‘Simple and fast’ medical check?
The European Parliament Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN) has passed the bill, but certain elements are yet to be agreed.
This includes a question on who would offer the test; at one point it was suggested that it could be given by medical professionals - or even done by the driver themselves at home.
However, the latter option has been scrapped, with TRAN saying that only a medical professional or authorised group should be permitted to offer the test, and that it must include an eyesight check at the minimum.
The test should be ‘simple and fast’, and not ‘overload’ the driver with a complicated procedure, the EU said.
It is likely that the final decision on whether to make the medical tests mandatory will rest with each individual member state, and each would be left to organise the finer points within their own medical system.
The text is now set to be examined by the European Parliament during a plenary session at Strasbourg at the start of next year. MEPs may still amend the bill before adopting it. The European Commission and European Union Council would then need to agree and approve the text.
European medical tests for older drivers
If the test is introduced in France, it would not be the first country to have a similar system - although currently tests elsewhere are only required for older drivers (whereas the new proposal is suggesting that drivers of all ages would need a check).
Italy already requires a vision test from age 50. In the Netherlands, drivers aged 75 and over need a medical test every five years, and the same is true for drivers aged 70 or over in Denmark and Finland, and 65 or over in Spain and Czechia.
There is already a voluntary scheme in France in which older drivers can put an ‘S’ sticker with the words Votre ainé au volant (senior citizen at the wheel) on their vehicle. Unlike the new driver ‘A’ sticker, it is not obligatory.
‘Older people not less safe’
The safe driving group l’Association Prévention Routière has disagreed with the idea of a test for older people only - especially one every five years - saying that the belief that older drivers are less safe is not true.
The available statistics show that only around 10% of accidents on French roads involve someone over the age of 65. In contrast more than double that – over 20% - involve a young driver between the ages of 18 and 24.
Only around 25% of driver fatalities are attributed to the elderly. La Société Française de Gériatrie et Gérontologie said that alcohol and speeding cause far more accidents and deaths than elderly drivers, who drive less, cover shorter distances and use more familiar routes.
‘Not favourable’ to the idea for older drivers only
The suggestion of a regular medical for older drivers is often debated in France, and again sparked discussions after an accident in Berck (Pas-de-Calais) in April, when a 76-year-old driver reportedly confused the brake and accelerator pedals, and ploughed into a festival crowd, injuring a dozen people.
But in October, Transport Minister Clément Beaune said: “We are not favourable to the idea of a licence being linked to age.” He said that such a requirement could lead to the idea that some people have “a licence past their expiry date”.
“France is opposed to there being an expiry date,” he said. “When someone is elderly, especially in rural areas, they need their car. I have heard some worries [flying around], but we are not in the process of changing these rules.
“We are not asking for, and France does not support, the idea to impose any forms of constraints, walls, or an expiry date linked to age for driving licences.”
His comments were called “staggering” and “appalling”, however, by a woman whose father was killed by an 81-year-old driver who had previously hurt another pedestrian while at the wheel.
The woman said at the time: “It's not a question of stigmatising the elderly and cutting people off from their vehicles if they are capable of using them, but of prevention. The current situation is incredibly absurd and unsustainable.”
In 2021, a poll found that 75% of people in France would be in favour of a medical exam to enable older people to continue driving. Even 58% of people in the over-65 category said they would be in favour.
If the new EU bill is passed, it will require tests for all drivers, although tests would likely be more frequent for older licence-holders (every five years as opposed to every 15).