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Study: Older Drivers Are Getting Safer

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While the nation’s capital may be the riskiest city for driving, Sioux Falls in South Dakota rated as the safest

While the nation’s capital may be the riskiest city for driving, Sioux Falls in South Dakota rated as the safest

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It likely doesn’t come as much of a surprise to hear that next to teenage drivers and young men, our oldest drivers are among the most crash-prone.

But according to new information released this week by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), they’re getting safer—much quicker than middle-age drivers.

The IIHS observes that the rate of fatal crashes—as well as the rate of reported severe crashes—for those 70 and older has declined significantly from 1997 to 2009.

The most pronounced decline was for those 80 and older. In that group, the fatal crash rate dropped by nearly half, while it fell 23 percent for those age 35 to 54.

“If the crash trends of drivers 70 and older had mirrored the experience of middle-age drivers, we estimate that about 10,000 additional older drivers would have been in fatal crashes during 1997-2008,” said Anne McCartt, Institute IIHS senior VP for research in the organization’s latest Status Report newsletter.

Overall, looking at collision stats from 13 states, the IIHS found that injury crash rates fell by 34 percent for those 80 and older, from 1997 to 2005, while they fell by 16 percent for those 35 to 54. Property damage claims went down, too, for the oldest drivers compared to middle-age drivers.

It’s a bit surprising, because the number of older drivers is increasing, and older drivers are holding on to their licenses longer. During that period, the percentage change in licensure rates increased by nearly 20 percent for those age 70 to 74, nearly ten percent for those 75-79 years old, and about five percent for those 80 and older. Overall, 78 percent of those 70 and older have a driver’s license. By comparison, the licensure rate of those age 35 to 54 has dropped slightly during the same period.

What’s a possible reason why? The IIHS suggests that it might be that older drivers are policing their own driving. Through a smaller Institute study of 500 people age 70 and older in Iowa—a state where restrictions can be imposed if a driver is identified as unfit—it found that a significant portion of drivers were limiting night-driving or high-speed highways.

Some states have become stricter about renewals, which might have helped. In nine states, vision tests are required for older drivers renewing, and in seven states don’t allow licenses to be renewed electronically or by mail.

“With or without state action, it looks like older people are doing a good job of addressing their own driving abilities,” McCartt said.

The odds have changed for older drivers as well. In 1997, those age 70 or older were about 3.5 times as likely as those 35 to 54 to be fatally injured. In 2005, it had dropped to three times.

The data doesn’t necessarily suggest that older drivers are becoming better drivers. Of course, it might also be that older drivers are healthier than they were before, suggests the IIHS, or that they’re reaping the advantages of improvements in auto safety. Either way, it’s likely that the insurance-funded IIHS will continued to keep an eye these issues—and on the data.

For more information, visit the IIHS page on state-by-state licensing regulations.

[IIHS]

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Comments (11)
  1. I was not sure if the "rate" was based on the absolute number of accidents or the number of accidents as a function of the number of drivers. One thought is if the latter, if the ranks of "older" drivers is swelling the chances the rate may drop a bit is likely (more and more folks just turning 70/71/72/etc) means the cohort got a little younger. BTW, when I start using terms like "cohort", it's time to call in some help! Regardless, interesting stuff.
     
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  2. Isn't it just that baby boomers are starting to show up in statistics now (2010-1940 = 70 years old)? I wonder if that says something about the education or skills of baby boomers vs the previous generation...
     
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  3. are there less older drivers out there which reduces the number of reported accidents? surprised that there is no mentioned of women.
     
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  4. My great uncle had his car taken away from him 3 years ago, he was 96 so now he drives around a tricycle, god bless!!
     
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  5. It's nice to hear that they're getting safer, but I'd still likely to see a vision test and driving test with every renewal for the elderly. Why do some states not have this?
     
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  6. Just wait until I show my grandson this one. He is always making fun of me for going 30mph in a 50, and I insist its safer. Guess I am right!
     
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  7. I remember hearing years ago that older drivers have worse reaction time than kids, but make up for it in experience (and patience I suppose), so makes sense
     
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  8. I have been an avid reader of TheCarConnection.com for many years. Around five years ago you published a great article about the signs that older drivers may need to consider giving up driving. A piece of the article I recall was the question,"Do cars seem to be coming out of nowhere?" I posed this question to my dad who ultimately turned over the keys-thankfully. Do you have an archive of old articles and could you publish it again?
     
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  9. I am 80 y/o and was a high performance driver. I know my rwaction times slowed at age 55. Cataracts begin at 70. OK, #6 think about clogging the DMV if every older person had to retake a driving test. Vision and hearing, yes. #7 You are WRONG! Driving 50 in a 70mph stream makes you a moving chicane, causing cars approaching from behind to need to swerve into another lane to get around you. I began as an auto safety engineer in 1965. I know that.
     
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  10. In related new, older drivers are actually ....wait....still old. Seriously, old folks hit stuff all the time, I just don't think they report it if it's not another vehicle/pedestrian. My mother continually tells me those dents on her car are the result of wayward trees--that sort of thing. The worst: parking lots. Question: if an old deaf blind person is backing up and his/her car stops backing up, is it because 1) they've hit another car behind them, 2) their foot is on the brake, 3) their transmission is in neutral, or 4) what was the question? The answer: 5) all of the above. Since old people don't see well, turn their heads to look around when backing up, don't know how to use their mirrors well anymore, and can't hear the crunch anyway, the parking lot is a dangerous place for them to discover they have no information about anything behind the b pillar. Note to self: never get old(er). Additional note to self: avoid parking lots when I get old(er)--I might hit me.
     
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  11. Sorry, but I still think there should be a max age for driving, same as there a minimum age.
     
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