Glorious, stirring sight!

Are you in danger of becoming a Toad on the road? Refresher driving courses may be just what you need, says Steve Martin

Toad of Toad Hall called it “poetry in motion! The real way to travel”. But Toad’s love for his motor was not matched by his skills behind the wheel. As we get older, and with decades of driving behind us, it’s easy for all of us to become complacent about our road habits.

But, warns the Driving Standards Agency (DSA), it is important that all keep their knowledge and skills up to date. Sixty-eight-year-old Ros Anderson, a driver for 38 years, has learned the value of a refresher course the hard way. A moment’s inattention caused her to collide with another car while pulling out of a junction and, although no-one was hurt, both vehicles were written off.

While reflexes become slower and our ability to judge speed and distance declines with age, older drivers compensate by adapting their driving practices

“It was a real wake-up call,” she says. “The girl in the other car was lovely about it. It would have been terrible if I’d hurt her.” After the accident, she was sent on Lincolnshire Road Safety Partnership’s one-day driver alertness course. The morning was spent in the classroom looking at common accident scenarios. In the afternoon, Anderson took to the road with a professional instructor.

Poop poop! The thrill of the open road

“I drove first and was really nervous but my instructor was relaxed and I began to enjoy the experience,” she says. “We learned to look well ahead for potential hazards and were encouraged to give a spoken commentary of what was happening all around us.”

Completing the course successfully meant she avoided prosecution and did not get any points on her licence. The refresher has, she says, transformed her driving.

“I’m far more careful and thoughtful about it and treat it as the big responsibility it is. I also feel more in control and I don’t let my attention wander.”

Three in four men and one in three women over 70 hold a licence and, from time to time, concerns are raised about the safety of older drivers. However, the DSA says there is no evidence to suggest older drivers are more likely to cause a serious accident than those in other age groups.

While it is true that reflexes become slower and our ability to judge speed and distance declines with age, research has found older drivers compensate by adapting their driving practices.

Steve Barnes, 84, recently tried out the Institute of Advanced Motorists’ DriveCheck55, which involves a tailored one-hour session with an instructor.

“I’ve been driving since 1945 and I consider myself a decent driver,” he says. “I’ve driven all over this country and Europe and never had an accident, but I was curious to know what a professional would think of my driving.”

Barnes was happy with the outcome: “The instructor only found two faults: not slowing down early enough before a speed limit and using the brakes rather than gears when going downhill. Otherwise, he thought I was quite good.”