Too old to Drive?

South Australia tightens the licence requirements for elderly drivers

An article in Adelaide’s The Advertiser on September 4, 2013, written by Police Reporter Ben Hyde, stimulated much debate all-day on talk-back radio station 5AA.

South Australian Motorists over the age of 70 must pass an annual medical and eyesight examination, and receive a certificate of fitness to drive.  Of particular concern to the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) of the SA government, are medical conditions that might adversely affect competence to drive safely.

Examples include diminished visual acuity, sleep disorders, attention deficit disorder and other psychiatric problems, degenerative neurological disorders e.g. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, epilepsy, diabetes, drug dependency, and heart disease.

All drivers, whatever their age, have a duty to report any condition that might affect their fitness to drive. Because of the increased incidence of medical disorders with age, an annual medical examination is appropriate for those over 70.

The New Certificate of Fitness Assessment Form

There has been a concern with the standard of medical information provided by some doctors completing the current assessment forms. This has prompted, according to the Road Safety Minister Michael O’Brien, the design of a more detailed document with a comprehensive patient questionnaire and examination report, to be completed by the driver and the medical examiner.

The new form complies with national guidelines in assessing fitness to drive. It is not aimed at increasing driver suspensions which have increased from 1416 in 2010/11, to 1541 in 2011/12, and now in 2012/13 to 2016, a jump of 30%. There are 117,000 licence holders in South Australia who are 70 or older.

In addition to those loosing their licence, an extra 816 drivers had restrictions placed on their licence. This was up from 645 in 2011/12 and 381 in 2010/11. This rapid increase is in part due to ageing of the population, but may also be a function of improved reporting.

The intention of the government is to reduce the high incidence of over 70-year-old drivers involved in fatal collisions. This year 17 of 74 road deaths have been in this age group. This statistic does not differentiate between the age group of the drivers mostly responsible for the accident.

By drawing attention to driving competency from medical causes, and placing restrictions when appropriate, the measures may in fact prolong driving longevity for the elderly.

The Victorian Approach

This article by Judith Charlton in the Herald Sun on July 18, 2013  puts the entirely different perspective of the Victorian State government to mandatory licence testing of older drivers. Annual medical examinations do not alter the road toll. Although older drivers may have more medical issues, their vision and hearing be less acute, and their reflexes slower, they are more likely to change their driving habits, and to drive within their limitations.

They are less likely to speed,  more likely to be cautious. They are less likely to weave in and out of traffic, cutting into the path of other cars. They often stop driving at night,  and avoid peak hour city traffic. They often pick less frequented roads. Many just use their car to do the shopping, to attend church, entertainment and sporting fixtures, and to visit friends. They are less likely to engage in such hazardous activities as talking on a mobile phone, or texting messages. They are mostly experienced drivers with good driving records.

Sure they may be annoyingly slow for impatient drivers behind them. They may miss opportunities to enter and leave streams of traffic. Because of this they are often honked impatiently and sometimes subject to road rage. A little more consideration would help prevent them from becoming flustered. Because of their frailty they are more likely to be severely injured in motor vehicle accidents.

Victoria claims the lowest older driver (over75) crash rate per number of licenses issued, according to an Australian study, quoted by Associate Professor Judith Charlton. She is an associate director of the Monash University Accident Research Centre, and has been a lead researcher in an Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand study of more than 1000 drivers over 75.

Pop-Star’s experience

Living in South Australia, an annual medical examination was necessary when he turned 70. This has not been onerous. He advised the Transport Department of health issues when they arose.  The first was an irregularity of his heart rate. Later he needed to wear glasses when driving.

Subsequently, he developed sleep apnoea, but this was a problem controlled by a CPAP machine, or a dental splint at night. His doctor had no hesitation in recommending his licence be approved each year. In 2002 he was diagnosed as having Parkinson’s disease, but the symptoms were not severe, and medication helped. More recently he developed an oesophageal diverticulum (pouch) causing regurgitation of undigested food especially at night when lying flat.

With such disturbed sleep he became increasingly sleepy during the day to the point that Mrs Pop-Star stopped him from driving for longer distances, for fear of him sleeping at the wheel, and causing an accident. Pop-Star did not mind at all being chauffeured by his dear wife.

When his next medical examination fell due, his doctor was unsure whether she should again endorse his licence. For this reason she requested a driving test. Pop-Star had no difficulty in passing this test easily , and has since increased his driving without problem.

Pop-Star’s Attitude

There are some elderly who stubbornly refuse to acknowledge when they are no longer safe to be driving. For this reason Pop-Star regards compulsory medical examinations as appropriate. In his opinion however it is not fair to place all responsibility on either doctors’ reports, or even on practical driving tests. Driving is a privilege, not a right. It is important for the elderly to listen to their family, and be proactive in restricting their own driving when necessary. From his own experience, cessation of driving need not be permanent. Driving with restrictions may be a welcome alternative.

The day will come when he can no longer drive. Pop-Star, faced with this possibility, tries to be positive about the prospect.  Being a passenger can be enjoyable, observing the scenery, back-seat driving, and getting to talk to his wife! To his disgrace he often tends to snooze, or occasionally use his great little smart phone for all sorts of uses, from Googling to answer his wife’s questions, to checking the stock-market, and playing chess. With less car expenses, occasional taxi rides is an affordable alternative. Staying at home has its advantages too.

Australia’s purple haze shrub – Isopogon formosus

Drumstick flower or Rose cone

Drumstick flower or Rose cone

Australia is home to many exquisitely beautiful shrubs and flowers that have adapted to the harsh dry summer environment.

Isopogon is an Australian genus, of the family Protaceae; better known members being the Grevilleas and the Banksias.

There are 30 odd species  of Isopogon, found in the southern temperate-climate coastal areas.

Most species including this one, I. formosus are found in southern Western Australia.

The name is derived from components:

– isos, Greek for equal

– pogon, Greek for beard, a reference to the mauve-coloured radiating stamens that project from the small globular head. For this appearance a common name for this two metre high shrub is Rose Cone Flower.

– formosus, from Latin meaning beautiful.

This species is not native to South Australia, and Pop-Star was unaware of their existence until presented with this shrub as a present by his brother. He likes its stunning appearance when in flower late winter-spring, forming a purple haze to add colour to his garden.

Isopogon formosus

Isopogon formosus

Isopogon formosus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Photo: Brian Walters

Pop-Star Ponders Life’s Last Adventure.

Portrait of John Keats by his friend Charles B...

Portrait of John Keats by his friend Charles Brown, 1819 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was not until his last year of study at the Adelaide Boys’ High School that Pop-Star discovered a love for the English language. He was always a “steady” rather than  a “bright” student; until then it was the science subjects, Physics and Chemistry where he gained his best results.

His ambition was to study Medicine, and at that time Latin was a prerequisite for entry to the School of Medicine in South Australia. In his earlier years English, and particularly English poetry had seemed incomprehensible and as lacking in interest and relevance as the study of Latin. English was just another discipline in which Pop-Star had to become proficient.

Pop-Star never fully mastered all grammatical detail, or understood the various structures of poetical expression. Even spelling errors crept into his literary efforts. He never really became as fluent as he would have liked in his writing and in his speech. He did however come to love carefully chosen words and to appreciate the human emotions they expressed.

The poet who most impressed the young Pop-Star was John Keats. You may be surprised to learn that he had no formal literary education. In fact he trained at Guy’s Hospital in London as a surgeon only to die at just 25, of pulmonary tuberculosis. In a few short years, in spite of his illness, he managed to write 54 poems that have brought him the fame and acclaim that he feared he would never achieve. His poem “When I have fears that I may cease to be” expressed this, together with a deeper regret on the loss of experiences of beauty and love, as they faded into insignificance, with his declining health.

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

Pop-Star liked his euphemism for death. “when I may cease to be”.

In our youth, we fear and dread death and shun even its mention.

Age softens our attitude to death, from a topic not to be discussed, to acceptance, and eventually to an event to be welcomed, and planned for.

Indeed it may be that it is “Life’s Last Adventure”

Captain Collet Barker

Mount Barker Summit seen from Pop- Star's garden

Mount Barker Summit seen from Pop-
Star’s garden

English: Lower Lakes of South Australia as vie...

English: Lower Lakes of South Australia as viewed from space in May 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Mount Barker in South Australia is not the only Australian township named in honour of Captain Collet Barker. The other one is in Western Australia, 50 kilometres north of Albany.   Both townships have similarly sized hills nearby from which they derive their names.

The  West Australian town has a population of about 3000, while the population of Mount Barker in South Australia was 12,000 at the 2011 census.  However with adjacent Nairne and Hahndorf  the population of the Mount Barker region is estimated at 26,434 and is one of South Australia’s main growth areas.


Captain Collet Barker was a well-regarded figure in Australia’s early colonial history. He is not so well-known now because after only three years of service in Australia he died rather tragically aged 47 exploring the outlet of the Murray River.He had been a career soldier who served in Sicily, in the Napoleonic Wars against France, and in North America at the Canadian frontier. He came to Australia in 1828 to take charge of the short-lived penal settlement at Fort Wellington on Raffles Bay (on the north coast of the Cobourg Peninsula). A year later his assignment was to the penal settlement in King George Sound in Western Australia; it  was under the command of the Governor of NSW and closed in March 1831 for transfer to Sydney. He gave distinguished service at both locations, maintaining the health of the prisoners, and establishing friendly relationships with the aborigines. He was evidently disappointed when they were ended.

The Governor of the Swan River settlement, Sir James Stirling, objected to the King George Sound penal colony; it was not under their administration. When the Governor of NSW (Sir Ralph Darling) decided to close it and transfer the inmates to Sydney, Collet Barker was asked to take them on the ship Isabella, and on the way to explore the eastern coast of St Vincent’s Gulf, and to determine whether Lake Alexandrina, noted by the explorer of the Murrary River Charles Sturt, had a channel to St Vincent’s Gulf.


He arrived at Cape Jervis on 13 April 1831. He first explored the coast north of Cape Jervix from the Isabella, but found no outlet in doing so.

He then returned to anchor Isabella at Port Noarlunga, and explored the interior defining the landmarks of the future Adelaide settlement. He noted the abundant fertility of the land, with “rich, fat chocolate coloured earth”. He correctly identified Mount Lofty Summit (727 metres) which had been climbed and named by Matthew Flinders in 1802 during his circum-navigation of Australia. He and his officers climbed Mount Lofty and from the Summit, where Matthew Flinders had left a cairn of stones, he was able to identify a bay now known as the Barker Inlet; this he had missed when exploring the coast from the Isabella. Adjacent was the mouth of the Port River, and location of the future Port of Adelaide. He also noted the mouth of a smaller river which he named Sturt River after his explorer friend Charles Sturt.

His remaining task was to extend his search towards Lake Alexandrina, and determine whether or not there was a channel to the Gulf. He sailed south from Port Noarlunga to anchor at Rapid Bay. He then set out overland on foot across the Fleurieu Peninsula to Encounter Bay. At the eastern extremity of the Bay on 30 April 1831, he came across the mouth of the Murray River, and outlet of Sturt’s Lake Alexandrina. Had he been content with this discovery, he would have survived to complete his assignment and to take up his next post to the troubled North Island settlement of New Zealand where his conciliatory attitude might have been invaluable in dealing with the Maori problem.

He made a decision however to extend his exploration to the southern side of the Murrary mouth, but since he was the only one in the party who could swim, he set out alone across the mile wide mouth with his compass strapped to his head. He was observed to reach the far shore, to take bearings with his compass, and to then walk up and over a sand dune. A short time later his men heard a sharp cry, and then nothing. He was never seen again. Eventually when they had given up all hope for his return, the party returned to the ship.

Before moving on, they contacted  Kangaroo Island sealers who requested their Aboriginal interpreter Sally to find out what had befallen Collet Barker. She and two of her relatives are reported to have met with the Ngarrindjeri people of the Coorong. They were told  that three of their number had speared the defenceless Captain Barker several times, and thrown his body into waters of Lake Alexandrina. Unfortunately the kindly Barker paid the price for the past brutality of the sealers and whalers of Kangaroo Island.


Mount Barker Summit, the peak Sturt saw from Lake Alexandrina and thought by him to be Mount Lofty, was named in his honour by Charles Sturt. There are two memorials to Captain Collet Barker, one at Mount Barker, and the other in St. James’s church in Sydney.

The information provided by Captain Barker’s exploration influenced the choice of Adelaide for the South Australian Settlement five years later in 1836 at Holdfast Bay.

Barker, Collet (1784–1831)

One of the numerous Friends of the late Captain Collet Barker has handed us the following, which we insert with pleasure.

A handsome and very appropriate memento has been erected to the memory of this brave and amiable, but unfortunate soldier, by the officers of his regiment, on the north side of St. James’s Church, opposite that of Sir James Brisbane, and bearing the following inscription on a white marble slab

Sacred to the memory of
Captain Collett Barker,
of His Majesty’s 39th Regiment of Foots,
who was treacherously murdered
by the Aboriginal natives,
on the 30th April, 1831,
while endeavouring,
in the performance of his duty
to ascertain the communication
between lake Alexandrina
and the Gulf of Vincent,
on the south-west coast of New Holland,
in token of esteem
for the singular worth,
and in affectionate remembrance
of the many virtues of the deceased.
This tablet is erected
by Colonel Lindesay
and his brother officers.

The Monument is surrounded by frieze, and with the inscription, reflects credit on the feelings and good taste of his companions in arms, while, like the character to whom it is sacred, it bears the stamp of intrinsic worth.

Our readers may recollect the melancholy circumstances attending the death of Captain Barker a few particulars we have obtained of his career, may not prove altogether uninteresting at this time.

Captain Barker entered the service in 1806, an Ensign in the 39th Regiment, and joined the 2nd Battallion in Malta, where he remained until that corps was ordered to the Peninsula; he was there actively employed with his regiment throughout the whole of those arduous and glorious campaigns, terminated by the victory of Thoulouse. In 1814, the 39th formed a part of the division of the army ordered to embark at Bordeaux, for America, where it was actively employed on the Canadian frontier. On the breaking out of hostilities in 1815, it returned to Europe, but did not arrive till after the battle of Waterloo. Captain B. remained in France, his regiment forming part of the Army of Occupation till 1818. In 1825, after 19 years active service as a Subaltern, he was obliged to purchase his Company. He arrived in this Colony in Aug. 1828, and three weeks afterwards was ordered to take the command of the settlement at Raffles Bay; there, Captain Barker, by his mild and conciliating conduct, opened a friendly intercourse with the natives, a measure which had baffled the attempts of two former Commandants. On the breaking up of this settlement in 1829, in consequence of orders from Home, Captain B. was removed to King George’s Sound. The removal was felt as a severe disappointment by Captain Barker. The object of establishing a station on our northern coast, had been to open a friendly communication with the Malays; and immediately on his having accomplished this object, and while in anxious expectation of remaining to witness the advantages consequent on a commercial intercourse with those people, Governor Darling abandoned the project. At King George’s Sound, Captain B. remained 16 months, when that settlement was handed over to the Swan River Government. In returning, he was directed by the Government to complete the survey of the outlet of Lake Alexandrina, discovered the year previously by Captain Sturt and it was in the execution of this duty, at the moment he attained the abjoct of his mission, that he fell the victim of his zeal and assiduity; being murdered by the natives in an excursion which, unhappily, he made alone.

Among the many amiable traits of Captain B’s character, may be instanced his generous conduct to his widowed sister and her orphan family, to whose welfare he sacrificed every consideration for himself, and who in him have lost a father.

It may be a source of some consolation to those, and other of his relatives, to know that his character is appreciated and his virtues recorded in the land which terminated his honourable career; and though no stone marks the place of his final rest, yet, the memento to his worth erected in St. James’s Church, will not suffer his name to be forgotten in a land where many of his comrades will reside, and among whom his many virtues will be cherished, so long as memory performs its office.

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