Older drivers dying behind wheel

BE AWARE NOT ALARMED  – The numbers aren’t looking good for older drivers.
BE AWARE NOT ALARMED – The numbers aren’t looking good for older drivers.

A SENIORS’ lobby group says research showing fatal crashes involving older drivers are on the rise is no cause for alarm.

The number of drivers aged 65-74 killed at the wheel has jumped nationally by 2.3 per cent every year since 2007. In drivers aged 75 and over, the number has risen by 1.2 per cent for the same period.

Dr Gratian Punch from Lismore Base Hospital in NSW studied data from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics after suspecting a spike in the number of road deaths of older drivers through his work as a doctor.

He presented the numbers to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, showing that the 65 and over age groups were the only ones to rise year on year since 2007.

But the Combined Pensioners’ and Superannuants’ Association (CPSA) has called for calm, saying there is no evidence to show older drivers are inherently unsafe drivers.

“The increased fatalities of older drivers must be understood and represented in context in order to not cause unnecessary alarm,” said policy officer Bronagh Power.

“Research has shown higher rates of fatalities for older drivers are because they are frailer and more likely to be injured in an accident.”

The date showed road-related hospitalisations from injury in drivers aged 65 and over has increased by 9 per cent compared to 1.8 per cent for their younger counterparts.

Ms Power said while NSW research shows drivers aged 85 and over are the most represented in crash fatalities, those aged 60-84 are less likely than drivers under 24 to be involved in fatal accidents.

“Young people are also more dangerous for other road users, while older people tend to put only themselves at risk,” she said.

Dr Punch said while the stereotypical belief is that young male drivers are the biggest contributor to national fatal and serious injury crash statistics, little attention is dedicated to the growing sub-group of drivers aged 65 and over.

“As a community, we need to have a conversation about older and elderly road users and increase awareness of this concerning trend,” Dr Punch said.

“Our goal is to have zero fatalities on our roads and it’s really concerning that road fatality percentages for drivers 65 and over is increasing, not going down like every other age bracket.

“There is continually going to be more and more older drivers on the road.

“It is essential that everyone takes responsibility for their own safety and the safety of the wider community by regularly consulting with their GP to assess their driving fitness.”

In NSW, the CPSA is campaigning to ban practical driving assessments for older

people, claiming there is no evidence to show it reduces the number of accidents. However, it supports the continuation of medical testing.

“Declaring that older drivers are unsafe drivers is blatantly discriminatory,” Ms Power said. 

“Research shows that older driver crash involvement is primarily restricted to subgroups of older people with particular medical conditions, rather than encompassing all older drivers.”

This article first appeared on www.thesenior.com.au