Older drivers get green light: study
The stereotype of older drivers being the worst on the roads may not be entirely true, according to a new University of Adelaide study.
Dr Matthew Baldock studied older drivers for his PhD at the university's internationally renowned Centre for Automotive Safety Research (CASR) and the Department of Psychology.
He found that by avoiding difficult driving conditions such as peak hours, rain and darkness, elderly drivers have far less crashes than their younger counterparts.
"The youngest drivers are worse than the oldest. On average, in South Australia, one in every two drivers aged under 25 was involved in a crash in the previous five years, compared to only one in five drivers aged over 60 during the same period," Dr Baldock said.
Now working as a research officer at CASR, Dr Baldock based his PhD research around the concept of "self-regulation" among older drivers.
Self-regulation can be defined as how, as they get older, drivers can modify their driving behaviour based on their own perception of how good they are behind the wheel.
Dr Baldock conducted a study examining the driving behaviour and attitudes of 104 drivers aged more than 60, and also analysed official South Australian crash statistics for the past five years.
"Overall, my studies showed that older drivers do engage in a degree of self-regulation of driving behaviour, and this self-regulation does have a relationship with driving ability - the more they perceive their ability to be declining, the more self-regulation they employ," he said.
"For example, older drivers with declining driving abilities tend to avoid driving at night and in the rain, because they feel they do not have the ability to perform these sorts of tasks safely any more.
"I also found that most drivers who reported driving less overall than they did 10 years ago did so because of changes in lifestyle, such as retirement. It is promising that many take the opportunity that this provides to avoid situations like night, rain, and peak hour."
However, there are still some driving tasks which older drivers show little self-regulation for, Dr Baldock said. These include such tasks as performing right-hand turns across oncoming traffic.
"Older drivers are over-represented in collisions in which they are turning right at intersections, and a number of drivers in the driving test had difficulty with right turns across traffic - yet this driving manoeuvre is very rarely avoided," he said.
Dr Baldock's study has possible implications for the way older drivers are assessed on their driving ability for re-licensing purposes.
"Because most older drivers remain safe by self-regulating their driving behaviour, mandatory age-based driving assessments are unlikely to be cost beneficial," he said.
"However, it is important to recognise that there are still some drivers who do not self-regulate despite deficits in their driving ability, and a small proportion of drivers who continue to drive when their ability is no longer adequate. A system needs to be in place to refer these drivers for assessment."
Story and photo by Ben Osborne