El­derly cau­tious, but as safe as oth­ers

Matamata Chronicle - - Your Paper, Your Place - TOM O’CON­NOR

‘‘Most in­sur­ance com­pa­nies charge young and in­ex­pe­ri­enced driv­ers a sig­nif­i­cantly higher pre­mium than older driv­ers sim­ply be­cause they have more ac­ci­dents.’’

It has been said many times, in many dif­fer­ent ways, that sta­tis­tics can be used to prove or dis­prove al­most any­thing.

In the past week, there has been a flurry of claim and coun­ter­claim about the peo­ple who sup­pos­edly cause the ma­jor­ity 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.

At face value, that state­ment seems to have a de­gree of logic un­til we con­sider that, if older driv­ers cause a quar­ter of all se­ri­ous ac­ci­dents, then the re­main­ing 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.

Both state­ments are clearly in­ad­e­quate as a ba­sis for ad­dress­ing the very se­ri­ous is­sue of road safety, par­tic­u­larly when we take into ac­count that about 25 per­cent of all driv­ers are aged over 65.

That is about the same pro­por­tion in which they ap­pear in road ac­ci­dents and there­fore the statis­tic is prob­a­bly not un­ex­pected.

A good in­di­ca­tion of which age group ap­pears in road ac­ci­dents sta­tis­tics more than oth­ers is how in­sur­ance com­pa­nies treat them.

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.

To­day’s learner driver can get be­hind the wheel of a ve­hi­cle with more than twice the horse­power we had and the roads they drive on are de­signed for speeds much greater than our old bombs could ever reach.

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 crash or watch­ing 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.

Hav­ing driven in Cal­i­for­nia I know that our col­lec­tive at­ti­tude to driv­ing in New Zealand, by com­par­i­son, is ap­pallingly bad. I also know we need a much bet­ter ap­proach to im­prov­ing that than blam­ing one group over an­other.

(abridged).

Tom O’Con­nor is a Fair­fax NZ colum­nist

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