Young drivers cop a lot of stick these days. They're regularly portrayed as daredevil demons of the road, spurred on by an insatiable appetite for speed and risk-taking. But is that fair?
Sure, there are young lunatics on the road but there are plenty of older lunatics as well. Ever been to Bathurst in October?
The lunatic fringe aside, are P-platers any worse than older folk whose driving skills are obviously deteriorating but who refuse to accept it? I'd argue no.
For a start, the younger driver these days has done a lot more to get his or her licence than the older generation. They have to log their learning hours, spend longer on their P-plates and pass a test to get off their Ps.
I did none of that and my parents' generation, many of whom are still on the road in their 70s, did even less. Yes, they have experience on their side but they also have a lot of awful habits they've carried with them on the road for a lifetime.
Authorities are big on quoting statistics on the 17- to 25-year-old driver and how they are over-represented in the road toll, which is true. But last year's road statistics make for interesting reading.
Which group of drivers had the biggest increase in deaths on our roads last year? If you said 17- to 25-year-olds, you might be surprised to know that the youth road toll was down by 17 per cent. That contrasts starkly with the annual toll for drivers over the age of 70, which was up an alarming 13.2 per cent.
Like it or not, driving gets riskier as you get older. Failing eyesight means you can't read road signs and judge distances or closing speeds as well as you once could. Reaction times are slower, too. So how are authorities tackling this problem? The restricted licence.
If you're as blind as a bat, you can apply for a licence that lets you drive within a certain radius of your home. The theory is that you might not be fit for most roads but those you're familiar with should be fine.
Sheesh! Do they also make sure that pedestrians, dogs and other motorists know to be in exactly the same spot at the same time daily so you're not confronted by the unfamiliar?
Basically, the law says you're only a hazard once you step out of your comfort zone. That might comfort people who want to keep driving after they really shouldn't but for the rest of us, not so much.She says
Richard, when it comes time for you to hand in your driver’s licence, I don’t envisage a pretty scene. You love driving now. Why will it be any different when your eyesight is failing and your reaction times slow?
Will you admit you don’t drive as well? Or perhaps you will have the same vision, hearing and response levels as you do now?
Either way, you, of all people, will feel that restricting, or removing, your driver’s licence is an outrage. It diminishes feelings of freedom and a sense of control.
At 71, you will probably storm out of the government office, leap into your retro 2012 Maserati GranTurismo and drive until you reach the other side of the continent. Wanted by police across three states, you will draw roadside supporters waving placards championing your case.
Drive Life will write articles about Richard Blackburn’s heroic marathon drive for basic human rights. Most importantly, you will feel that you can drive perfectly well. Even if you can’t.
Many people are perfectly able to drive over the age of 70. Many are not and know this. The rest may be obstinate or, after their required annual driving test and medical examination (if over 75), deteriorating in driving ability far quicker than anticipated.
It is the same problem with some younger licence-holders. All the tests in the world will not stop people driving badly. An aggressive temperament and lack of experience are often the bugbears for the 18-25 group.
How ironic that too much experience – or bad habits, as you put it – and a dulled sense of mindfulness are the reasons some older drivers are dangerous.
If you think the only way to stop older people causing accidents is to take away their licence – no matter their circumstances, driving record, level of health and driving test results – then the same should be done to all young people.
Everyone over 70 off the road? Well, everyone under 25 goes off the road, too. These, as you point out, are the two age groups representing the most worrying road statistics.
Anyway, motorists over 70 are notoriously slower drivers. And in this era of beat-the-limit tailgaters, their measured pace is enlightening.
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