Older drivers risk injury in outdated cars

Motorist Mary Walsh.
Motorist Mary Walsh.

The motorists most at risk of injury are driving the most unsafe vehicles, road safety experts have warned.

An analysis of Transport Accident Commission data by The Age has found the number of drivers older than 60 being hospitalised has risen in the past decade, echoing a similar trend in road deaths.

Monash Accident Research Centre associate director Stuart Newstead said a high proportion of older motorists were driving older vehicles without the benefit of safety advances.

''The most high-risk drivers are driving the least-safe cars,'' he said.

He said older people were driving for much longer than they used to and would buy ''retirement vehicles'' in their 60s despite driving into their 80s.

The Age analysis found a total of 615 drivers older than 60 were injured on Victoria's roads in the past financial year. Almost a quarter suffered serious injuries that kept them in hospital for more than a fortnight.

While the total number of injuries has fallen 10 per cent since the start of the century, injuries for the over-60s have increased by more than 30 per cent.

TAC road safety manager Samantha Cockfield said the increase reflected that the state's population was ageing, but choice of car was also a key factor.

''Older people tend to be in older and less-safe cars. That's because of their belief system that an old Ford Falcon is going to protect them much better than a new car, when, of course, we know the more modern your car, the more likely it is to have modern safety features,'' she said.

She said the car people selected to drive in retirement was possibly the most important car choice they would make in their life.

Mary Walsh, 65, has been driving an early '90s model Toyota Corolla for almost 20 years and does not intend to upgrade to a newer vehicle soon. ''I'm not in a position financially to be changing my car every couple of years,'' she said.

Mrs Walsh, who regularly drives interstate, said the car was not equipped with airbags. She had been involved in two crashes in the time she has owned the vehicle, neither of which was her fault. ''But the car is still going strong, like me,'' she said.

The trend of older drivers owning older cars was confirmed by the Australian Pensioners Insurance Agency, covering the over 50s. It said its customers' vehicles were, on average, more than a third older than the general insured population.

A 2012 study found older drivers' injuries could be reduced by 90 per cent if they upgraded to the safest car available.

This story Older drivers risk injury in outdated cars first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.