Who is going to run you over?

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The Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) in the UK has figures that show fatalities have fallen 33 percent in the 16-19 year old bracket, 25 percent for drivers in their 70s, and 22 percent for drivers aged 80 and over since 2008.

Despite the falls, the fatality rate continues to be highest for 16-19 year olds, followed by the over 80s, but for very different reasons.  The greatest risk to the oldest age group on the road is as a pedestrian.  In comparison, younger people are much more at risk as a driver or as a passenger in a car driven by a young driver.  Pedestrian risk increases from two percent of those injured aged between 20 and 50, to around nine percent aged 80 and over.  The greatest risk to pedestrians is car drivers under 30 who are involved in more than a third of pedestrian fatalities.

No Helmet No Helmet

During their teens and twenties, the risk of young drivers being killed halves every five years as they gain more driving experience.  This lends weight to the IAM’s call for post-test training to be made compulsory in a form similar to that of the system in countries like Austria, where reductions of up to 30 percent in young male driver fatalities have been achieved.  If new drivers can be kept alive during this most dangerous stage of their driving career, the risk of them becoming another killed or seriously injured statistic reduces significantly.

The Austrian system ensures new drivers have at least three further contacts with qualified instructors during the first 12 to 18 months of their driving career.  After taking the test, an initial assessment drive is undertaken to gain knowledge of a driver’s experience so far and to highlight any deficiencies.  There is then a visit to a Road Safety Center to demonstrate handling in the wet, speed into corners and the impact of speed on stopping distances.  Discussion sessions are also held which take a psychological approach, talking about peer pressure and the main risks to young drivers.  The final element is an eco-drive assessment.  Compared to what happens here, there is certainly room for improvement in the lax Thai licensing system.

Despite widespread beliefs to the contrary, older drivers are no more likely to be involved in an injury crash than middle aged drivers, and are much less at risk than drivers aged under 30.  However, the risk of being killed as a car occupant increases from about 0.6 percent of those injured aged between 30 and 50, to over three percent aged 80 and over. This is generally a result of age-related frailty; older people are more likely to be injured in a crash and are less likely to recover.  Between 20 and 50 years of age, the rate of deaths declines for all road users except for motorcyclists which remains almost constant over this period.

Young male drivers continue to be the most high-risk group, and are more than twice as likely to be involved in a fatal or serious injury crash as young female drivers.  A renewed focus on young drivers, which provides them with opportunities to gain further experience in a controlled and safe environment is of utmost importance says the IAM.

However, Thailand also had a blitz over Xmas/New Year.  The Ministry urged agencies with integrated checkpoints to crack down on risky behavior and for local administrative organization-level checkpoints to oversee residents’ driving behavior.  Provinces were to repair landslide-damaged roads and educate motorists; to supervise public-transport vehicles and drivers strictly; and to enforce the ban on drink-driving.

Now all that seems reasonably relevant and something as a starting point for all the committee think tanks which will be called up to propose the answers to the road toll problem.  But considering that the road toll went up during the 2010/2011 celebrations, the emphasis was not the right one.

However, the leg-work has been done already, even before the first coffee break for the Think Tank.  The following statistics are readily available and a quick internet search will show that the road toll costs the country 2.1 percent of GDP.  Now what were prime factors?

1.  80 percent of those killed are between 15-60 years

2.  75 percent of the people killed are male

3.  80 percent were riding motorcycles

4.  85 percent had no crash helmet

5. More than 50 percent of those injured had blood alcohol levels above the legal limit of 0.05.  (Figures for blood alcohol levels of those killed are notoriously under-reported to avoid police/insurance problems.)

A crackdown on motorcycle riders with no helmets would be a start and insisting that retailers only sell helmets of international standard would be next.  But will that happen?  I doubt it.