Oct. 29, 2008 Young drivers, elderly drivers and motorcyclists are stigmatised by society, according to associate professor Ove Njå at the University of Stavanger in Norway. He's researching who the dangerous drivers really are.
You've probably heard it lots of times: It's the under 24s or the over 70s, besides the motorcyclists and drug users who cause the most traffic accidents. These are high risk groups, who pose a threat to us sensible drivers.
An unfair angling of reality, believes Ove Njå at the University of Stavanger in Norway.
"Some so-called experts maintain for instance that it is 10-15 times more dangerous to drive a motorcycle than to drive a car, or that to drive a motorcycle is as dangerous as to drive with 0,1 percent blood-alcohol concentration. These experts either don't know what risk is, or they under-communicate their own basis for these statements. Not long ago there was a suggestion to limit the possibility for 18 year olds to drive a car, which would hit all the serious 18 year olds. This way of discussing high risk groups is stigmatising large groups of people. It's problematic, and I don't believe it achieves anything. That's why I think it's important to find out more about these high risk groups," says Mr. Njå.
And that's what he has done. Following a request by the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, he has studied reports from all fatal accidents on Norwegian Roads in 2005, 2006 and 2007. In all there are 625 cases. Investigative reports are based on police documents, among them reports from the scene and testimonies from witnesses who describe the turn of events. In all this information, he has tried to find patterns which can tell us something more specific about those who cause accidents.
Mr. Njå is not just concerned with those who become stigmatised. He thinks it is important to find out who really poses the risk, so that measures can be implemented for the those who need it the most.
"We can then approach these groups, to among other things, make them realise they're a high risk group. More knowledge about the high risk groups could also be used to follow up the driver who is caught in police controls or is involved in minor accidents. It might prevent major accidents later," says Mr. Njå.
He thinks traffic should not be considered an isolated problem, but as a part of overall safety in society.
"If you regard accidents as a result of individual errors, you get a whole different perspective than you do when you regard accidents as part of a societal system, as I do. I think councils, the police, the health service, other authorities and representatives for these groups should be pulled in to prevent." He believes that nowadays, we don't think broadly enough.
In the report he sees 17 sub-groups under the known high-risk groups. In many cases, a driver can belong to several groups.
This is the first characterisation of sub-groups:
Young Male Drivers
The week-end drivers
Young people who enjoy games and extreme behaviour in traffic. They are not particularly interested in cars, but use their vehicle as a means to meet other young people. They don't drive while drunk, but the typical accident occurs on the way to or from a party.
These are young people who disregard norms. Their behaviour in traffic is extreme, they drive while under the influence, without licences and are often associated with criminal groups.
Drivers with little experience are overrepresented in the material. The lack of experience can be especially dangerous in combination with certain social situations, if for instance the mood in the car makes the driver push himself beyond his limit.
There are several different motor environments where high risk behaviour can develop: Some are focused around motorsports, others around the vehicle itself, and there are environments where unusual driving is encouraged. There is very little about these environments in the material.
The mentally ill and emotionally unstable
Among the young people who died, there were several who had experienced a triggering episode prior to the accident. This group is probably difficult to identify. Additionally, there are young people with mental illness which has developed over time.
Drivers who only drive in their spare time, and struggle to find the good feeling. This group includes those who annually bring out their motorcycles and use them relatively rarely, so that they don't maintain their driving skills.
This group includes people who are drugged, have no licence, have stolen the bike, have no safety equipment and/or are mentally unstable. Laws, rules and regulations are not real barriers to their motorcycle driving.
The experienced thrill seekers
These drivers have a certain amount of experience, and push the boundaries with "fun" driving. This includes playing with fast driving, driving on one wheel, and cornering at high speeds, which is at the limit of the drivers skill. It's not unusual for the motorcycle to be borrowed or relatively new.
These are motorcyclists who are either on roads they don't know (often foreigners on holidays), haven't had their licence for long, or rarely drive their motorcycle. They are unable to cope with relatively manageable traffic, they freeze or act irrationally.
The deliberate choosers
In a few episodes, it appears that the driver has deliberately chosen to cause the accident. The background for these events are not made clear in the material Mr Njå has had at his disposal.
The mentally frail elderly
People normally start to deteriorate mentally at around 45 years of age. For some, this develops quickly, in the form of Alzheimer's disease or similar, for others, the process is much slower.
The generally frail elderly
Some accidents also occur because the driver has weakened motor skills. This is the interplay between the ability to sense and think, and motor skills, which makes sure that input is received and processed in the nervous system, and the muscular system.
The physically frail elderly
Here we're talking about the elderly and their ability to move in traffic. As an example, consider the case where an elderly person had only 13 seconds to cross a wide, heavily trafficked road. It cased an intense debate in the media.
Older drivers with acute health conditions
This includes conditions such as heart failure or loss of consciousness. The material says very little about the health problems which have arisen in the individual accident. Considering individual risks for acute health issues in road traffic is difficult, and so far has not received a high priority.
This group is easily traced in the statistics of arrested drivers, and they are people with obvious drug misuse problems. Over time, we've seen a marked reduction in cases of clear alcohol abuse, and seen many more people mix alcohol with addictive medication and / or other illegal drugs.
These are the people arrested for drunken driving once, a group which can probably rarely be considered drug abusers. The fact that most of them do not get re-arrested, hopefully means that they adjust their behaviour after having been arrested the first time.
Those who stick to mediation abuse only, are a group we know far less of, but Mr Njå thinks we should pay much more attention to them.
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