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Older and younger people drive older cars

older cars

Drivers over 70 and young people 17-25 have at least two things in common. Each age group is overrepresented in road accidents and each age group drives older cars that are less safe than average.

Road trauma is a leading cause of death

Younger people 17-25 and older people over 70 are more susceptible to road trauma, whether death or serious injury.

  • Road trauma is the leading killer of children under 14 and young people 15-29 in the world.
  • In NSW, 17-25 year olds are 13.8% of licence holders but make up 18.5% of deaths and 19.6% of serious injuries.
  • In NSW, drivers over 70 are 12.2% of licence holders but make up 16.7% of deaths and 12.6% of serious injuries.

Even so, drivers in these two age groups tend to drive vehicles that are older and less safe than the average.

Older cars are not as safe

The ANCAP (Australasian New Car Assessment Program) assesses the safety of all new vehicles. It found a disproportionate number of deaths in vehicles made before 2001, compared to cars built in 2012-2017. Its crash test data show a 2015 Toyota Corolla, with seven airbags, was considerably safer than the 1998 model.

However, safety ratings have changed considerably in that time. The more recent the rating year, the stiffer the criteria. Hence, cars built in 2021 have to meet much more stringent criteria than cars built in 2015. For example, in 2021, ANCAP added side impact testing, driver monitoring and crash tested the THOR dummy (incidentally, a 50th percentile male).

In spite of lower safety ratings, older drivers own old cars.

Older drivers own old cars

Older drivers are more likely to own old cars and tend to own sedans or hatchbacks. A recent US study of road crashes in Florida revealed drivers over 70 were far more likely to drive vehicles 16+ years old than drivers 35-54. Older drivers were also less likely to drive new cars under 3 years old.

Older drivers were also less concerned than other age groups about safety features:

  • Only a quarter required AEB.
  • Only 10% said safety ratings were not very important.
  • They were less likely to believe safety ratings were extremely important in their car purchase.

In NSW in 2021:

  • Serious injuries of older drivers fell 18%, compared to a 4% fall in all serious injuries
  • Deaths of older drivers fell 35%, compared to a 20% fall in all deaths.

However, younger drivers did not fare so well.

Younger drivers drive old cars

This year, younger drivers have not done as well as older drivers in experiencing less road trauma. In NSW in 2021:

  • Serious injuries of young people 17-25 rose 2%, compared to a 4% fall overall
  • Deaths of young people 17-25 fell 24%, compared to a 20% fall overall.

While the average age of cars in Australia is 10.2, teenagers often drive cars older than that. These don’t have modern safety features, such as electronic stability control or airbags, and are less protective in a crash.

Even so, it’s not unusual to see parents in a shiny new car while their teenager drives an old bomb. With what we know about safety, it makes no practical sense.

Teenagers are among the riskiest drivers, especially when on P plates. They also crash at four times the rate of adults and their older, smaller cars are less able to protect them.

Australia is not the only country where young drivers have old cars. Nearly half of teen drivers killed on US roads were driving cars that were 11+ years old. Comparing teens with drivers 35-50, they were more likely to be driving a small car, less likely to be in a large pickup (ute) and their vehicles often lacked safety features, such as stability control and airbags.

What can be done to encourage younger and older drivers to drive safer cars? Not only does it reduce their chances of a crash, it also can reduce the price of their green slip. Insurers usually charge less for newer, safer cars.

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Corrina Baird

Writer and Researcher, greenslips.com.au

Corrina used to lend her car to her kids and discovered what Ls, Ps and demerits mean for greenslips. After 20 years in financial services and over 9 years with greenslips.com.au, she’s an expert in the NSW CTP scheme. Read more about Corrina

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