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Road safety and ageism

By Michalis Attalides

One would have thought that our lawmakers and law enforcers would by now have concentrated their efforts on the nightly illegal and offensively noisy motorcycle racing by a number of  young reprobates  on the main streets of the capital, which  has for months kept inhabitants of the centre  awake.

Yet what they seem to have done is to zoom in on older drivers as the main issue of road safety.

Road safety  is crucially important as it involves lost lives and injuries.  But any proposed measure must be examined as to whether it is, in fact, necessary and effective.

In the past, medical certification every three years, as compared to never for the rest of the population,  has been imposed for all above a certain age. It is proposed that the interval for re-certification will  become yearly for all  people who are above a certain age.

So the first thing we need is the statistics on people causing road accidents by age.

For Cyprus,  I have not been able to locate such statistics. All I found are some figures offered by the police for 2000-04 in a table entitled “Dead drivers/passengers according to their age”. In 2000, we find that only one driver over 60 was killed whereas the figures for other age groups were 11 for 15-24, 13 for 25-39 and 10 for 40-59. By 2004, however, the over 60 drivers had unfortunately caught up and 12 drivers over 60 were killed,  which was the same figure as the 15-24 age group and the 40-59 age group, while the figure for 25-39 had fortunately fallen to 7 dead drivers.

Recent EU statistics show that the percentage of fatalities for people over 65 in road accidents (25%) is higher than their percentage in the population (18%), whereas the percentage of fatalities for the 25-64 age group (55%) is the same as their percentage of the population. But  the very young 15-24, who are 11 % of the population, unfortunately  account for a disproportionate number of  the fatalities (17%).

But before we rush to the wrong conclusion that over 65s are  dangerous drivers, we must take into account another fact. And that is that in the EU over 65s are  an enormous 44% of the pedestrians killed in traffic accidents.

This  swells the  overall figure for fatalities of the old on the roads, but says nothing as to the aged being dangerous drivers. Incidentally, this figure indicates that we probably need a campaign to train  and test drivers of all ages to be capable of driving in a way which avoids killing the aged on the streets, rather than to force all  the aged and only the aged, to be frequently tested for their ability to drive.

There seems to be much confusion on the issue with some of our experts seemingly adding the five aged drivers who were killed this year to the five aged pedestrians who were run over this year to conclude a strange equation resulting in the penalisation of aged drivers.

In the UK, increased frequency of drivers killed or seriously injured by age is not observed.  Indeed 8% of the total killed were in the age group of 17 -19. The 60-69 age group accounted for 9% and the over 70’s for 13%. This is much better than the 25% of the 20-29 age group and better than the 42% of the 30-59 age group.

For the US also, rates seem similarly distributed by age.

It is also worth quoting the conclusion of the AAA that: “Drivers aged 85 and older had the highest rates of (their own) death per driver and per mile driven; however this was largely due to their diminished ability to survive a crash rather than to their increased crash rate”.

Finally, it is worth mentioning one of the conclusions of the International Older Driver Consensus Conference: “ It is  not clear from the literature that age-based screening would reduce the risk of road collisions”.

If this is really the scientific case, it is unjustified to impose annual testing on those above a certain age in an indiscriminate and ageist way.

Though article 28 of the Constitution of the Republic on non-discrimination does not specifically mention age, it may be that if age is used in an indiscriminate way for imposing obligations or tests, on the basis of age alone, it conflicts with the human rights guaranteed in the Constitution, and particularly equality and non-discrimination.

The writer is an analyst on social and diplomatic issues

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