OFF-duty dads have overtaken men aged under 25 as our deadliest drivers because they over-estimate their skill, drive while drunk and don’t wear seatbelts — but not when their kids are in the car.
For the past two years, men aged 30 to 49 have accounted for more road fatalities than drivers aged 17 to 25, the group that is traditionally the most high-risk road user.
Although the older men tend to drive cautiously when their families are in the car, they become reckless when they are alone, believing their skill and experience will get them out of trouble, research by the NSW Centre for Road Safety shows.
“They clearly say that they are such good drivers that no matter what the circumstances are, they would be able to avoid a crash,” Bernard Carlon, executive director of CRS, said.
“The reality of the numbers is that’s not happening and that, in fact, the number of fatalities are going up.”
In effect, the older men seem to be becoming more reckless on the road, while younger drivers are becoming less so, thanks to a rigorous licensing system.
Mr Carlon first noticed a worrying trend in fatalities among men aged 30 to 49 about five years ago while investigating concerns about driver deaths in commercial vehicles and light trucks.
He widened his research to discover men in this age group were more likely to die in accidents involving drink-driving, failing to wear seat belts and fatigue than any other group.
According to his analysis, failing to wear a seat belt was a factor in 26 per cent of deaths among the older age group in 2015 and 2016, compared with 17 per cent for younger drivers.
Mr Carlon was so concerned he commissioned a study of 1500 male drivers to learn more.
These drivers responded that they were more likely to speed while alone than with their family as they could not live with the anguish of being responsible for hurting them.
However, injuring other road users didn’t factor into their thinking. If driving alone, they thought they would only hurt themselves.
“They are taking more risks than other drivers,” Mr Carlon said. “They definitely think that their skill and ability is going to mitigate against those risks. But the reality is when they make the mistake and there is an impact, and they are travelling 20km/h faster than they should be, whether you live or die dep-ends on how hard you hit that other object.
“Young drivers are still over-represented, they still take risks and are still very vulnerable.”
“The tragic outcome from this is it’s actually someone else’s family. We need to protect everybody in the road environment. If you are driving on your own, even then we don’t want to lose your life.”
Another contributing factor is that most drivers of commercial vehicles and light trucks are men in this cate-gory, and accidents involving those vehicles are more likely to end badly as they have fewer safety features.
Traditionally, men aged between 17 and 25 have been the most at-risk drivers, partly because they are inexperienced, but also due to poor judgment by brains that don’t fully mature until age 25.
The number of deaths in this category has halved since NSW introduced a tougher licencing system in 2000 that forced young drivers to spend more time on their P-plates and obey more restrictions.
While their parents sat a written learner’s test and passed a rudimentary driving exam, today’s drivers now have to clock up 120 hours of driving practice. They also have the option of sitting a safe driving course.
“That system has been very successful,” Mr Carlon said. “Young drivers are still over-represented, they still take risks and are still very vulnerable — a lot of that is cognitive development. The system has significantly red-uced that trauma.”
Of the 80 male drivers aged 30 to 49 killed in the past two years, 91 per cent were alone in the car. In cases inv-olving drivers aged between 17 and 25 that number was 67 per cent. When all categories of drivers are considered, the number was 70 per cent.
Roads Minister Melinda Pavey said older men should know better because of their experience. “Parents need to start setting a better example for their kids,” she said. “Every time you get behind the wheel you should imagine you are carrying all the most precious people in your life.”
Noor Seerazi, a driver trainer and assessor with the NRMA, said he has to undo the bad habits learner drivers picked up from their parents.
“There are many things we pick up, particularly how to drive on roundabouts.”
FAMILY ON COURSE FOR SAFER JOURNEYS
WHEN Gorizio Di Ceaso gets into his car alone, he admits being a little lead-footed.
But the father of three said it’s a different story if his kids are with him.
“Even though you get old, you are still young at heart,” Mr Di Ceaso, 44, said.
“The thought of getting fined makes you more cautious. I don’t speed, but if I am driving on my own I give it a bit of a squirt.”
The businessman and Holden Clubsport owner has completed the Ian Luff Drive To Survive course in the hope of becoming a better driver.
He has learned how to better use his ABS brakes and steering wheel, refined the use of his mirrors, and even improved his posture.
“The way I sit in the car now I probably look like a bit of a granny,” Mr Di Ceaso, of St Clair, in Sydney’s west, said.
“I learned that sitting low in your seat like a 20-year-old is not a good idea. I am also more aware of the cars around me.”
With his teenage daughter about to get her L-plates, Mr Di Ceaso also wants to ensure he doesn’t set a bad example.
“If I did not do the course, I would be teaching my daughter the way I was taught — old school,” he said.
“I want to show her all the right things.”
Mr Di Ceaso said both he and his brother now intend to go back and do the driving school’s second, more advanced course.
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