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Jaime-Lee Gardner
072 171 1979

Louise Martin
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Do you need a car?

Advantages and disadvantages of car ownership

By Mark van Dijk

, |

Do you need a car?

Advantages and disadvantages of car ownership

By Mark van Dijk

, |

3 min read

When 97-year-old Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth’s consort, crashed his Land Rover, injuring two bystanders, the first thing people asked was whether – at that age – he should have been driving at all. In fact, should there be an upper age limit for driving, just as there is a lower one? It’s a provocative question, and one that overshadows a far more sensible one: if you’re living in a retirement estate, does it still make sense to own and drive a car?

Fit to drive?

In South Africa, Arrive Alive points out that: ‘Older drivers find it more difficult to judge the speed and intentions of other drivers. From the age of around 45, most of us need glasses to see well either at a distance, close up or for both. For example, by around the age of 60, our eyes will normally require three times more light to see as well as when we were aged 20.’

Arrive Alive adds that the elderly are more likely to be severely injured or killed in a crash. ‘The fatality rate of the 65- to 74-year-olds is about twice that of the 30- to 64-year-olds,’ it says. ‘The fatality rate is even eight times higher for the over-75s.’

In fairness, though, Arrive Alive puts the brakes on any blanket bans for the elderly. ‘Some 85-year-olds are in better shape than certain 40-year-olds,’ it notes.

Still … The snarky stereotype about old men in hats being the worst drivers on the road had to come from somewhere, right? Those prejudices emerged in an Institute of Advanced Motorists poll in the UK, in which (sorry, Prince Phillip) 68% of respondents said they believed that mandatory retesting of drivers over the age of 70 would benefit road safety.

‘The IAM believes we need to reassure the public that older drivers do not represent a disproportionate risk,’ AIM Director of Policy and Research Neil Greig was moved to say. ‘Some 8% of drivers are over 70 and they are involved in around 4% of injury crashes. But 15% of drivers are in their teens and 20s and they are involved in 34% of injury crashes – a far higher number.’


Driving up costs

Insurance companies know all about that. Insurance premiums tend to be highest for younger road hogs, with under-25 males universally paying the most because … well … they tend to have the most car accidents. But those same insurers also have a set of expensive rules for people at the other end of the age scale.

Car insurance premiums are based on your risk profile, and senior drivers are considered to be a low-risk group. But while South Africa’s road rules don’t require the elderly to be retested to keep their drivers’ licences, some insurance companies do require regular proof that you’re still fit to drive. ‘Regular’ in some cases could be as often as once a year.

It’s standard practice in the South African motor vehicle underwriting industry to require over-80s (in some cases, over-75s) to get a doctor’s certificate confirming that they can still drive – even if they still have a valid driver’s licence.

Between the medical certificates and the increasing insurance premiums – plus, of course, the running costs of petrol, licence renewals and servicing – it might make sense for some older drivers to sell their cars and look for other options.

An Uber ride could cost about R50 for a five-kilometre drive down to your local shopping mall. Make two trips a week, and you’re still beating the combined costs of petrol (about R15.50 per litre in early 2020), insurance and all the rest of it. And, don’t forget, you can share the costs of an Uber with other residents, which is a lot more socially comfortable than asking them to contribute to the running costs of your car if you were to offer lifts.

Some retirement villages also offer shuttle trips for quick outings and, if yours doesn’t, it might be worth motivating for them.


Fewer journeys

If you live in a retirement estate, you probably have most of what you need on site, so you’ll have less need to drive around. Even visiting your family can be accomplished by Uber if they are close enough. And, if they’re not close enough for Uber, driving could be stressful. So, while you’re probably fine to drive, you will in all likelihood do so much less frequently, which means your diving skills will probably get rusty – and your eyesight and reactions are not getting any better.

So why bother having a car? There are so many better things to spend that money on.

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