The ability to drive yourself from one place to another is an exercise in independence. For many older Americans, giving up that privilege can be a difficult acknowledgement that your sight, reaction time, or level of comfort on the road isn’t what it once was. But a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) indicates older drivers today are safer than generations before.
As we age, our abilities to do many things decline. Deteriorating eyesight, coordination, and reaction times are frequently cited as reasons for the elderly to turn in their driver’s licenses. But, there really isn’t agreement at what age this should happen.
IIHS Says Elders Aren’t Making Roads More Dangerous
While many people may judge a white-haired driver as one to look out for, that generalization wouldn’t stack up to the facts, says the new findings of the IIHS. According to the agency, not only are elderly drivers less likely to be involved in auto accidents than they were in prior generations, but they are less likely to be seriously hurt or killed if such an accident occurs.
Overall, accident rates have fallen. But serious accidents among the elderly have dropped even more dramatically than those of other age groups.
Since 1997, the accident rate of elderly drivers (those 70 and over) has fallen more dramatically than that of middle-age (35-54) drivers, both when you look at the accident-per-driver rate and the accident-per-miles-driven.
From 1997 to 2012, accident rates per licensed driver fell 30 percent for middle-age drivers and 42 percent for the elderly. The rate of accidents per vehicle miles traveled fell 26 percent for middle-age drivers and 39 percent for older drivers between 1995 and 2008.
Safer Elderly Drivers a Credit to Numerous Factors
There are several reasons why older drivers now are safer than older drivers of decades past.
Seniors now are healthier than ever. People are living longer and healthier lives. This means those health concerns that often lead to accidents (like vision problems or slowed reaction times) are less of a concern for many elderly drivers.
Vehicles are safer than ever. Fewer injuries and fatalities are also occurring because vehicles are safer now than they have ever been. Accident prevention technology, better engineered vehicles, airbags, and higher than ever safety belt use all make for safer cars.
Older drivers are now less likely to drive at night or in bad weather conditions—situations that would put them at a greater risk of an auto accident.
In 2012, 4,079 people ages 70 and older died in auto accidents, a drop of 31 percent when compared to 1997, when older driver fatal accidents peaked in the U.S.
The IIHS admits that a decade ago they were one of the many groups concerned about a growing number of elders on the road. With the Baby Boomer generation entering senior citizen status, the IIHS was concerned there would be an influx of age-related accidents.
Older people are healthier than before and they are simply better drivers than they were just decades ago. This doesn’t mean that age can’t affect your safety behind the wheel.
Whether you are an older driver or a loved one of an elder who drives, being aware of limitations related to age will help you identify when it might be time to turn in your keys.