The road safety crisis that wasn’t

Despite data stretching back ten years saying otherwise, in 2016 the then NSW Roads Minister and the current NSW Police Assistant-Commissioner in charge of road traffic claimed that the risk of serious injury and death for older drivers was increasing.

In 2005, people over 70 accounted for 8.6 per cent of all serious road injuries. Ten years later, 11.7 per cent of all serious road injuries were among people over 70. For the then Roads Minister and the current Assistant Commissioner of Police called it case closed. People over 70 were increasingly becoming petrol head menaces, a danger to the public and unto themselves. Crisis!

But hang on.

Back in 2005, there were 644,446 people aged over 70 in NSW, but ten years later there were 818,194.

In 2005 there were 1,010 serious road injuries for the over-70s, or 0.16 per cent of all 644,446 people over 70 in NSW.

In 2015, there were 1,415 serious road injuries for the over-70s, or …. 0.17 per cent of all 818.194 people over 70 in NSW.

When we look at the road injury rate of people under -70, we find that is was 0.16 per cent in 2015.

In fact, the road injury rate for over-70s and under-70s has moved in a narrow range between 0.16 per cent and 0.18 per cent. It hasn’t materially moved for both categories in ten years!

So, no crisis. Repeat: no crisis.

The road death statistic provides even starker evidence of the fact that the over-70s are doing just fine on NSW roads. It looks as though the death rate has gone up from 16.3 per cent to 19.5 per cent of all road deaths. However, take into account the significant rise in the number of people over-70 and it turns out the death rate has gone down from 0.013 per cent to .008 per cent of all people over-70.

Since these figures were published, CPSA has written to the new NSW Roads Minister, Melinda Pavey, to point out that the alleged increasing risk of serious injury and death among older drivers is being used as an argument in the defence of older driver road testing.

NSW remains the only jurisdiction in Australia where older drivers must periodically submit to a road test and risk losing their licence. In fact, NSW and the state of Illinois (USA) are the only jurisdictions left in the developed world where road testing of older drivers is still practised, despite overwhelming academic evidence that it does nothing for road safety.