Middle aged men now have more chance of dying on NSW roads than young people. Latest figures for 2019 show 13 more men aged 30-59 lost their lives in 2019, compared to the previous year. Meanwhile, there was a historic low of 14 deaths of young people 17-20. Why are men of all ages still the main casualties?
Men are the main casualties
Around three quarters of road deaths in Australia, the UK, Europe and the US are men. But the focus has always been on younger men, who take more risks while driving. They still do, but it appears older men do too. For the first time in 2018 across Australia, drivers aged 40-49 made up the biggest group in fatal crashes. This group was bigger than the 17-25 year olds.
The trend for middle aged men to hurt themselves or die appears in motorcycle, bicycle and e-bike statistics as well. During the year to February 2017, male motorcyclists over 40 accounted for half of the 62 deaths in NSW. This means men over 40 are dying in motorbike accidents at the same rate as men under 40.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare says about 38 cyclists die in crashes every year, and most of those killed are men over 45. They have serious injuries as often as people injured in motor vehicle or motorcycle crashes. Even male pedestrians are not safe. While women make over half of their journeys on foot in the UK, men make up 57% of pedestrian deaths.
Did you know it’s possible to recognise whether a man or a woman is driving? One study analysed speed, acceleration, lane departure, braking force, gas pedal pressure and steering angle. It found:
- Acceleration, then speed, were the biggest predictors of driver gender
- Aggressive driving, including sharp acceleration and speeding, was more closely associated with men
- In another study, men scored higher on risky, angry and high speed driving styles, while women scored higher on dissociative, anxious and patient driving styles.
In fact, middle-aged men readily admit to speeding and taking risks, especially when driving alone. Men also drive twice the distance women do, on average – and are less likely to travel as a passenger. They are more likely than women to think they are safer than the average driver and to think speed limits are too low or penalties too harsh.
There may be an evolutionary reason why men drive this way. Qualities that enabled men to survive and mate – hunting, aggression and risk-taking – are still evident in the way they drive. Women, who needed qualities to bring up children, are more likely than men to worry about someone close to them being killed in a crash.
Women are more at risk of serious injury
In NSW, roughly two thirds of serious injuries were to men and one third were to women.
This is interesting because European Commission says women are 47% more prone to serious injuries if they have a crash.
When researchers control for other factors such as height or weight, they still found women were more likely than men to be injured. Even a woman wearing a seatbelt is 73% more likely than a man to be seriously injured in a head-on crash. They are also more likely to get whiplash from being thrown forward in rear-end collisions. Should crash testing allow for this?
Crash testing first began in 1970 using a an average-sized male dummy, because men were the largest proportion of accident victims. They made up three quarters of road deaths in Europe (and still do) even though they were only half the population. However, today’s crash dummy is more sophisticated and represents the vulnerabilities of male and female bodies.
Even so, we cannot stop middle aged men from dying on the roads by crash testing cars. It will take a change of mindset about driving and that may be harder than it looks.