News that the UK now has more than four million drivers aged over seventy has surprised some, but it is the fact that they are subject to different driving rules which has come as a real shock to many people.
The over-seventies licence, which must be renewed every three years, includes clauses designed to make driving safer for older road users. For example, it is mandatory for all over-seventies drivers to restrict their speed to a maximum of half the prevailing speed limit. It is also a requirement that all elderly drivers, both men and women, must wear a hat in the car at all times.
There are a number of rules which apply to specific driving situations. When joining a motorway, an older driver should approach at 40mph and only merge with the motorway traffic when it has slowed down sufficiently. Once safely on the motorway, they are then required to move straight out into the middle, or 'Senior Citizens' lane whilst maintaining the same speed. It is the role of the elderly driver to slow down other traffic to an acceptable speed.
At roundabouts, all over-seventies drivers must signal right if they are going straight on, go all the way round in the left lane when turning right and stop on the roundabout if they think they may have missed their exit.
In car-parks, older drivers have an inferred right of way in all situations, and a default allocation of two adjacent parking spaces. When leaving any car-park which requires payment, stopping beyond reach of the coin slot and having to get out of the car to pay helps to regulate other drivers who may be inclined to exit the car-park too quickly. This can also be achieved by pressing the lost ticket button and then ignoring the instructions until another driver comes to help.
Whilst not mandatory, elderly drivers are encouraged to stop at switched off peak-time-only traffic lights, and to slow down to 25mph when they see a speed camera in a 60mph limit.
The use of headlamps, indicators, windscreen wipers and especially the horn should be kept to an absolute minimum, and this is helped by planning journeys to get home before it gets dark or starts to rain. Once the direction indicators have been used, however, it is important to leave them on so other drivers can determine where you came from.
Certain road hazards are to be avoided, such as one-way systems, multi-storey car parks, drive-though food outlets, toll roads, ferries and city centres. That is unless it is rush hour, when these hazards can be freely negotiated but in an extremely hesitant manner, at very low speed and with very little awareness of other vehicles.
But the rule changes do not only cover road manoeuvres, and it is in the area of motoring equipment that there are major differences from the usual regulations.
By law, an over-seventies driver must always carry in their car a panama hat, two umbrellas, a folding chair, a tartan rug, a round tin of boiled sweets, an old leather-bound road atlas, a first-aid kit containing a rusty tin of Germolene, a pair of string-backed driving gloves, a clean hankie, and a small dog which can be either real or a toy.
Any journey longer than twenty minutes requires the driver to take a flask of tea.
They must also have with them the car's log book, user manual and the last five MOT certificates, the torn off outer paper surrounds from several tax disks, their driving licence, an RAC membership card (expired), a National Trust membership card (current), a small bag full of twenty pence pieces, a tyre depth gauge and a GB sticker. A padded neck support pillow is optional.
Rather than adjust the seat, older women drivers are encouraged to prop themselves up on a large maroon Paisley-pattern cushion to enable them to see over the dashboard. They should also keep a pair of broken flip-flops in the car because it is safer than driving in slight heels.
Finally, all over-seventies drivers must wear a thick, slightly damp coat. This usually comes in one of several scents; mothballs, cabbage, liniment or wet dog.
As well as these requirements, there are items that must not be taken in a car by an over-seventies driver - a small aluminium LED torch, for instance. A plastic electric lantern which uses a battery the size of half a brick and gives off a fading amber glow is perfectly adequate.
A functional spare wheel is considered unnecessary, and only two of the items from the set of wheel nut wrench, jack and jack handle should be carried. A red metal fuel can may be kept in the boot, but only if it is almost empty, and the nature of the contents is unknown.
A mobile phone can be taken on journeys provided that the driver does not know how to use it, and has no credit. And keeps it switched off to conserve the battery.
One item banned from use by the over-seventies is a SatNav. All journey planning must be done with old paper maps at an unsuitable scale, and traffic information can be gleaned from Radio 4, if everyone is quiet for a minute. It is, however, acceptable to have a disconnected SatNav device stuck to the windscreen provided that it was a present.
So that they can be identified by other drivers, over-seventies drivers should limit themselves to driving vehicles that are either dark green, brown or mustard yellow in colour, and ideally should be fitted with the following accessories. An empty roof rack. Large rubber mud flaps. A seat cover made from wooden beads. At least three silver plastic wheel trims secured with cable ties. And a Help for Heroes window sticker, or one displaying the name of a coastal town or historic monument.
If over-seventies drivers are still concerned about not being identified, there is one accessory that they can attach to their cars which always helps to indicate their elderly status. A caravan.
Provided that these simple rules are adhered to, there is absolutely no reason why an over-seventies driver should not continue to affect other road users for years to come.