The 2020 Australian Bureau of Statistics Motor Vehicle Survey found that average age of vehicles across Australia is 10.1 years, a figure that is twice as high as it should be.

Tasmanian vehicles were the oldest at 12.5 years, while the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory had the youngest fleet with an average age of 9.5 years.

AADA would like to see the average age of our national car park closer to five years. It has been ageing steadily since the 1990s.

Older cars are less safe, are involved in more accidents and fatalities, and are less environmentally-friendly than new vehicles – even when the environmental impact of their manufacture is taken into account.

In the five years from 2012 to 2017, nearly 80 per cent of young drivers under 20 who died and 71 per cent of those who seriously injured in car crashes on NSW roads were driving cars older than 10 years.

Almost half – 45 per cent – of those killed were driving vehicles at least 15 years old. P1 drivers – the first stage of NSW provisional drivers licensing system – make up just three per cent of the six million drivers on NSW roads, yet over 20 per cent of fatalities.

“You can clearly see there is a strong association with younger drivers with a higher proportion of fatalities coming from older vehicles,” Centre for Road Safety senior researcher Andrew Graham told a 2017 road safety seminar.

Studies showed that young drivers in older cars had three times the risk of being hospitalised or killed, according to safety researcher Rebecca Ivers. Yet the rate of young people driving old and unsafe vehicles, often the only ones they could afford, hadn’t changed.

“We need to have a much stronger education campaign for parents and young people about the safety of the cars,” said Professor Ivers.

Electronic stability control – only available in newer vehicles – halves the risk of having a single-vehicle crash risk and prevented loss of control which was more common among young drivers.

The NSW research was consistent with national data from the independent car safety ratings group ANCAP showing drivers of older cars, made before 2000, were four times more likely to die than those in a new car.

About a third of all crashes by drivers of all age groups were in vehicles older than 15 years.

Older cars don’t have as many safety features as new ones, which are loaded with safety features and injury protection in case of accidents. Technologies such as lane-keep assist, traction control and blind spot monitoring help prevent accidents, while stronger compartments, better seat belts, air bags, side impact protection and crumple zones protect the occupants if a crash does occur. ANCAP tests and rates the safety of new vehicles to help consumers identify the safest models.

The environmental case

Older vehicles are less fuel-efficient and therefore worse for the environment. A 2000 study titled On The Road In 2020: A life-cycle analysis of new automobile technologies, found that 75 per cent of a car’s lifetime carbon emissions came from the fuel it burned. Another 19 per cent was production and transportation of the fuel, leaving six per cent for the car’s manufacture.

Even accounting for fewer emissions from newer ‘old’ cars today, a Volkswagen study found that with vehicle efficiency rising steadily, 68 per cent of the car’s lifetime emissions still came from driving it, while the manufacturing process accounts for 22 percent.

The USA car park is even older than Australia’s, with a report released in July last year finding that the average age of cars in the USA was 11.8 years. That is the highest it has been since that figure started being tracked in the early 2000s, according to the report by IHS Markit.

The recession caused by the 2008 Global Financial Crisis played a role in boosting the average age of American vehicles, while a factor in common with Australia is that quality improvements have enabled drivers to keep their cars for longer.

“The quality is higher, lasting longer, withstanding the weather,” said IHS Markit Director of Global Automotive Aftermarket Mark Seng.

As well, loans and warranties often stretch for six or seven years, giving owners an incentive to keep their vehicles for longer.

IHS projected that the number of vehicles that are at least 16 years old will increase by 22% from 2018 to 2023. The way we are tracking, we can expect a similar increase in Australia, with the associated safety and emissions issues. It’s a problem that needs addressing.

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