Trains, trucks, and older drivers

The nasty truck-train collision in Melbourne’s outer south-east has, understandably, prompted discussion on rail crossing safety, with calls for the widespread removal of level crossings.

While there may well be arguments for the removal of rail crossings, safety, even given the loss of life last Saturday, is not exactly a convincing one. There are about 10 deaths per year from rail crossing accidents in Australia, of about 1300 total vehicle accident deaths.

While it’s not been so widely discussed, another issue that came into my mind upon reading the news reports was the fact that the truck driver involved was 69 years of age. Is a 69-year-old still capable of driving a heavy vehicle safely?

Given that most truck drivers are professionals and most will have retired by that age, I doubt there’s any quantitative evidence on point, but the evidence from older car drivers, to my surprise, doesn’t suggest undue risks. This paper, and this one, suggest that drivers, even in their late sixties, don’t pose a significant additional crash risk over younger drivers.

Unsatisfying as it may sometimes be, sometimes there is no systemic lesson from a spectacular crash. This may well be one of those occasions.

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