Are Lousy Retirement Plans Making America A More Dangerous Place To Drive?

May 14, 2014

America's seniors are in trouble -- and the situation is only going to get worse.

By many accounts, Baby Boomers are going to be poorer in old age than their parents. That's caused the average retirement age -- both the age at which folks expect to retire and the age at which they truly do -- to tick up over the past decade.

Some attribute economic problems like these to the disappearance of pension plans and the increased popularity of 401ks and other investment vehicles, which allow devil-may-care employees to put off retirement planning until it's too late. Others blame the Great Recession, which took a chunk out of many workers' savings. And still others point to anxiety over Social Security and significant concerns about its long-term viability.

Whatever the root cause (and in fact, it's probably a combination of the three, plus lots of other stuff), older Americans are remaining in the workforce. That means that many folks who'd thought they might spend their golden years on putting greens in Boca are still making the daily commute at 65, 70, and 75.

Among those 65 and older, 25 percent of men are still employed, as are 18 percent of women. That's about twice as many seniors in the workforce as there were just 20 years ago. Is that making America's roads more dangerous? 


AAA Foundation recently published a study on older drivers (PDF), which found that medications can interfere with seniors' ability to get around, and that, when involved in accidents, they're less likely to recover quickly or fully. However, as we've pointed out several times before, older drivers are pretty good at self-policing, which makes them less of a hazard to themselves and other drivers.

Among the study's major findings: 

  • Seniors make up the fastest-growing segment of drivers: by 2025, more than 25 percent of all drivers in the U.S. will be 65 or older.
  • Although older drivers have been blamed for some high-profile accidents, their overall crash rate is about the same as 20- and 30-year-old motorists. (They're not as safe as middle-aged drivers, though, who have the lowest average crash rate.)
  • Older drivers are active: among licensed drivers over 85, more than 75 percent of men and 60 percent of women drive five or more days each week. (In that same group, less than 5 percent of men and less than 10 percent of women drive less than once each week.)
  • Many of those drivers are on meds: among drivers 65 and older, more than 90 percent take prescription drugs, and more than 66 percent of those who take drugs take more than one.
  • Women are safer, on the whole: not only do women without medical conditions drive less than men with medical conditions, but women who take prescription drugs are more likely to self-police their driving than similarly situated men.
  • Roughly 75 percent of all drivers age 65 and older who report having a medical condition say that they've cut back on daily driving.
  • Poorer drivers are more likely to self-police: women between the ages of 65 and 69 who earn less than $13,000 were 62 percent more likely to scale back driving at night than similarly aged women who earn over $70,000.


While it might seem that economic issues are laying the groundwork for dangerous driving conditions in the U.S., older drivers have several factors weighing in their favor -- namely, experience and wisdom. Those seem to have served them well, minimizing their exposure to risk on the roads. 

That's borne out in statistics. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, although the number of older drivers is increasing, they're involved in fewer fatal crashes today than they were just a few years ago: "A total of 4,079 people ages 70 and older died in crashes in 2012. That’s 31 percent fewer than in 1997." Let's hope that trend continues, as America's senior population continues to grow.


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