When the Duke of Edinburgh surrendered his driving licence to police last week following the crash outside the Royal Family’s Sandringham estate in which two women were injured, there was a predictably cynical reaction in some quarters.
But I doubt it was an easy decision for him to make.
I still remember the day I passed my driving test; that liberating feeling of freedom and independence; swapping ‘L plates’ for that passport to the open road which meant the shackles were off. If you experienced that, imagine the reverse.
I have never met the Duke of Edinburgh but books and documentaries suggest a fiercely proud man who, through public duty and selfless support of his wife, has had to surrender more independence than most red-blooded men of his generation could have accepted. And now, perhaps his one last vestige of personal freedom has gone.
Those who see it as a justifiable outcome should consider that the elderly are not toddlers to be stood in a corner or have their toys confiscated. And while the Prince will always have a chauffeur, it is a huge thing for an older person to lose the use of a car. For many older people who are isolated, their car is a necessity. Without it, public transport can be infrequent, unreliable or just too far away and a taxi too expensive. It’s why my policing plan supports safer driving courses for the elderly as well as the young.
The Prince is 97 and according to the DVLA, the number of people aged over 90 still holding a driving licence in Britain has topped 100,000 for the first time. If you’re over 70 and still have your licence you are one out of more than 4.5 million.
Do they all enjoy driving or is it something more visceral? Losing your licence can have a demoralising effect on an older person. I knew someone who stopped driving on medical grounds but kept his car in the garage because giving it up to would have seemed like throwing in the towel on life itself.
So spare a thought for the Duke. Yes, he can drive around the estate but to an Alpha male like him, that’s a bit like cycling with stabilisers – not much point and no fun.