Modern Cars Unsafe? How Safe Are Old Cars?

COMMENT: From this week's Goose of the Week

From: Jo

Re: Age Discrimination comments on Channel 7's The Daily Edition

With reference to motorists over the age of 60 allegedly driving dangerous older cars, Mr Cadogan this is age discriminatory and frankly in many instances it is untrue - many more young drivers drive old cars - however to say that new cars are safe is rubbish - because they crumple say you - I saw a crash the other day in which a small new car had a head on collision and the driver essentially according to those medical experts would more likely than not lose their legs if they survived at all...crumple is no way Mr. Cadogan - I have a hardy 1985 Subaru Leone which because of its build save me from a severe accident - in that I was stationary and a young person driving a new crumple car drove into the back of me - he lifted my car in the air - his was a total write off he received severe lacerations - I essentially felt the car lift in the air and nothing else - the Leone's boot moved a few inches and nothing more its body containing the shock.
So please be more careful when you use age - it is a reportable discriminatory comment.


Oh God, where do I start? Lord, give me strength...


For starters, let's deal with the vexed issue of age discrimination. That's administered by the Australian Human Rights Commission. Please, Jo, I implore you, do lodge a complaint based on my comments, because I'd really like to see how that goes. You can send it here:

Australian Human Rights Commission
GPO Box 5218
Sydney NSW 2001

According to the Human Rights Commission:

"Age discrimination is when a person is treated less favourably than another person in a similar situation, because of their age. For example, it could be ‘direct age discrimination’ if an older applicant is not considered for a job because it is assumed that they are not as up to date with technology as a younger person. It is also age discrimination when there is a rule or policy that is the same for everyone but has an unfair effect on people of a particular age. This is called ‘indirect discrimination’. For example, it may be indirect age discrimination if an employer requires an older person to meet a physical fitness test – which more young people are able to meet – if the fitness standard is not an inherent requirement of the job."

What I in fact said was that older people - you, for example - are placing themselves at risk because they drive older cars. In fact I was reporting the findings of an investigation by Fairfax Media, which used Transport Accident Commission data and also input from Stuart Newstead, associate director of the Monash University Accident Research Centre. Of course, compared with you, what would MUARC know?

All of these people involved - including myself - had one objective in discussing this issue: making older drivers aware of the risks inherent in driving old cars. I took part in the story so that fewer older drivers end their lives in agony at the roadside, or suffer terribly from injuries that don't get better. It beggars belief that you could infer that I was being age discriminatory. 

So, good luck with that official discrimination complaint. I'll expect to hear from the Human Rights Commission in due course. More information on the Human Rights Commission and discrimination. I'll pack a toothbrush and toiletries for my upcoming incarceration.

Unfortunately, for you, and fortunately for the rest of us, who still live in the real world, the age discrimination laws don't prohibit a person like me telling a person like you something you simply don't like, or don't agree with. You don't have to like what is said - that's the real beauty of free speech.

And, for the record, please be assured that I don't have a problem with you because of your age. I have a problem with you because you are a narrow-minded, ignorant pest. Apparently one with too much spare time. Realistically, you've probably been that way all your life. Today, you're just an older version of your younger, narrow-minded, ignorant pest self. Which seems reasonable. And, thankfully, it's not yet illegal in this country to for me to be a bigot on the issue of people like you whose purpose in life seems to be drawing oxygen from the air under false pretences and dragging the national IQ average lower than it needs to be. I can't stand fools, basically. (I know: it's a character flaw...)


Here's the full story I was commenting on. The headline kinda says it all: 'Older Drivers Risk Injury in Outdated Cars'. It's doubtful Fairfax Media's lawyers would have allowed it to be published on 28 May this year in The Age newspaper if the content had in fact been age discriminatory.

Basically, older drivers are over-represented in crashes. That's not age-discriminatory - it's simply a fact. (Facts can't be age discriminatory.) It's been known for at least 20 years, as this paper from the Monash University Accident Research Centre shows. (You want pg. ix.) The unsafe old cars they drive are a factor in the injuries they suffer.


You drive a near 30-year-old car. It's been reliable and feels solid. I get that.

Unfortunately, it's also a death-trap in a serious crash. It has no advanced safety features. No airbags. No deformation zones. No rigid safety cell. I can tell from your comments that you have no technical training. No physics. No mathematics (real, advanced mathematics, not multiplication tables). No engineering knowledge. I can understand how you might intuitively believe older cars are less safe because of the deformation you see in a crash, but in fact, that deformation is evidence of the energy that has been absorbed in a controlled way - before it gets to you.

If you drop an egg off the balcony onto the concrete it smashes, because the egg absorbs all the impact energy itself. (Bad for the egg.) If you drop an egg off the balcony onto two feet of cotton wool on top of the concrete, the cotton wool absorbs the impact energy in a controlled way. The egg gets out of the event shaken but not scrambled. In the first case (no cotton wool) the egg is your brain in a crash in your death-trap Subaru Leone. In the second case (with cotton wool) the egg is your brain in a modern car with a five-star safety rating.  

Here's why modern cars are immeasurably safer:

  1. Because every day on planet earth, thousands of engineers go into laboratories and R&D centres and do their jobs, which is to make cars safer. You can't do that for 30 years and spend billions upon billions of dollars and get it wrong. (Look at medicine 30 years ago versus medicine today - same thing.) Cars today are safer. Significantly so. I have never met a single technically qualified person who disagrees, and certainly the death toll on Australian roads has dropped significantly as a result of safer cars.
  2. Safety sells cars - and it is independently tested by ANCAP. In other words, making cars safer is commercially relevant to car companies. Less safe cars don't sell. You should read the ANCAP page on crash testing, and also the page on the ANCAP safety star ratings. ANCAP is completely independent. Here's a quote from ANCAP: "Occupants have twice the chance of being killed or seriously injured in an ANCAP 1 Star rated vehicle compared to an ANCAP 5 Star rated vehicle."  Now, in relation to your Subaru, it has no lifesaving safety features, and rates zero stars. It is a death trap in a crash. Sorry to say - you could add that to your Human Rights Commission complaint. ANCAP's page on modern safety features isn't bad, either.

Regarding your position on crumpling. There are two parts to this crumple-zone story: the front of the car is designed to absorb energy in a controlled way. It crumples in a carefully designed way. This dissipates energy before it gets to the driver and passengers. The second part is the passenger compartment, which is designed to be much more rigid than in an old car. So - you get energy absorption from the front and a rigid safety cell' for the people, which makes sense. Carmakers use high-tensile steel for passenger compartments these cays, and this was simply not done 30 years ago. There are other impact mitigating devices like airbags and seatbelt pre-tensioners, which also mitigate the impact for the people. Of course I only spent six years at university getting a degree in engineering, and have since travelled the world visiting leading safety research facilities and interviewing global experts in this area. I could hardly compare my impression of this, with that of an opinionated ignoramus like you.

Lastly, if you don't believe me (and it seems as if you are somewhat set in your ways) perhaps you will after watching the two videos below.