Old Drivers

June 24, 2016

Tom O’ConnorTom O’Connor

Just recently there has been a flurry of claim and counter claim about the group which supposedly causes most of our more serious road accidents. The debate started with the claim that about 25 percent of all major road accidents are caused by drivers over the age of 65 and therefore there should be restrictions placed on these people. That statement, if accurate, would seem to have a degree of logic until we consider that, if older drivers cause a quarter of all serious accidents, three quarters of all serious accidents are caused by everyone else and therefore, perhaps, everyone else should be restricted and leave the old folks alone.

However when we take into account that about 25 percent of all drivers are aged over 65, which is the same proportion in which they appear in road accidents, the statistics are probably not unexpected.

Most insurance companies charge young and inexperienced drivers a significantly higher premium than older drivers simply because they have more accidents. Police statistics also show that younger people in the 17 to 24 age bracket cause 45 to 47 per cent of serious crashes, not older people. But even that data needs to be considered alongside the relative numbers of older and younger drivers on the road before it means anything.

There are also significant differences in how older and younger people learn to drive, the vehicles they drive and the roads they drive on. Todays learner driver can get behind the wheel of a vehicle with more than twice the horse power we had and the roads they driver on are designed for speeds much greater than our old bombs could ever reach. There have always been serious and fatal road accidents and they have increased in proportion to the speed and power of vehicles and racetrack like highways. Too many of todays high speed motor accidents look more like a plane crash which few people could survive.

One of the comments made by those seeking to restrict older drivers, which perhaps has some validity, is that they can be frustratingly over cautious, drive too slowly on the open highway and generally hold up other traffic. Some of that caution, for some of us, comes from helping to pull broken, bleeding and burnt bodies from a high speed crashes or watch helplessly while someone slowly bleeds to death from internal injuries after being pulled alive from a wreck. These real life experiences tend to make us a little more cautious than some younger drivers who have not seen such horror. It is also a fact that older people tend to sustain more serious injuries in a road accident than younger people simply because they are less resilient and that can also make us a little more cautious.

Our general attitude to driving in New Zealand, by comparison with other countries, is appallingly and we need a much better approach to reducing the road toll than blaming one group over another.

Tom O'Connor
Former National President
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