Elderly cautious, but as safe as others
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.
‘‘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.
Tom O’connor is a Fairfax NZ columnist