As the debate continues over whether the elderly are fit to drive, arguably Malaysia’s most well-known senior citizen says age is not the only factor to be taken into consideration when discussing road safety.
At the ripe old age of 96, Dr Mahathir Mohamad is still game for highway spins himself, and has no qualms about getting behind the wheel.
Speaking in an interview with MalaysiaNow, the veteran statesman who made headlines as the oldest prime minister in the world after taking up the position for the second time in 2018 said most senior citizens can still think rationally and are strong enough to continue driving.
“I can still drive long distance, for instance from Kuala Lumpur to Alor Setar by myself,” he said, navigating traffic in the capital city during a recent drive with MalaysiaNow in his trademark Proton car.
While it’s been some time since he last attempted such a trip, he says he is still more than comfortable driving even on highways associated with fast-moving traffic.
“Malaysia’s modern highways were built big enough to have three lanes,” he said. “By rule, the slow lane is on the left and the fast lane is on the right. You can remain in the middle lane when driving at a constant speed or when not overtaking.
“The elderly can use the left lane if they are driving slowly so that other drivers can speed up, using the other two lanes.”
Mahathir, who founded Malaysia’s national car company Proton in the 1980s, is known for hopping behind the wheel and has been videoed driving many times, including chauffeuring high-profile individuals such as heads of state from other countries.
In 2019, he drove Indonesian President Joko Widodo to a lunch at Seri Perdana, the prime minister’s official residence in Putrajaya.
Four years earlier, he had taken Widodo on a test drive in a Proton car at the Sepang race circuit.
In 2018, meanwhile, he was filmed driving a Porsche amid a heavy downpour at a time when his political adversaries were mocking his age.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, Mahathir said the issue of dangerous driving is less related to age than it is to individual choices.
“Old or young drivers is not the question here,” he said, adding that accidents might also occur due to poor road infrastructure.
Debate on the matter arose late last month after the police proposed that the government the issuance of driving licences to senior citizens.
Bukit Aman Traffic Investigation and Enforcement Department director Azisman Alias said the health condition of senior citizens could be a contributing factor to road accidents.
He said senior citizens also need to undergo a medical check-up and get a doctor’s approval confirming that they are fit to drive.
“As people age, they are more likely to suffer from health conditions such as Alzheimer’s and blurred vision which can indirectly cause accidents on the road,” he said.
Mahathir acknowledged that many senior citizens are in poorer health compared to younger drivers.
However, he cautioned against using this to generalise, saying many young drivers also suffer from similar disabilities.
“Different people have different capabilities,” he said. “Young drivers can also suffer from eye conditions that bar them from driving.
“As for me, my eyesight is still good and I can see well enough to drive. I can still step on the pedal at night, and I have no problem at all.”
Malaysia is expected to become an ageing nation by 2030, with 15% of its population aged 60 and above.
Mahathir said this is because senior citizens are now healthier, with better medical advancements.
He said many are also still able to work, with the retirement age extended to 60.
“Our intelligence, ability to think, and strength extend from years back when people at the age of 55 could no longer work,” he said.
Mahathir has often stressed the importance of staying mentally active, attributing his good health to a controlled diet and regular exercise.