America’s population of seniors has been growing over the last several decades. As of 2011, there were more than 41 million people in the U.S. aged 65 and older, compared to 35 million in 2000. And because seniors are keeping their licenses longer, there are more older drivers on the road than ever.
Initially, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) feared that this trend would increase road fatalities — not because older drivers aren’t safe drivers, but because aging often brings a loss of bone and muscle strength, which means greater vulnerability in accidents.
But those fears may be groundless. According to the latest IIHS study, today’s senior drivers are involved in fewer crashes (and have lower instances of serious injury or death resulting from a crash) than those in the mid-1990s.
Fatal crash rates among older drivers have decreased
Crash fatalities among drivers aged 70 and older fell 42 percent between 1997 and 2012. (Tweet this.)
And results for nonfatal crashes showed a similar decline.
Let’s look at the 2 main reasons for this.
1. Seniors are healthier
Older folks are fitter these days, showing fewer of the impairments that can be dangerous behind the wheel. And better health may mean their risk of serious injury is lower if they’re involved in a crash. They also tend to have better access to emergency care.
Though older drivers often limit their driving if they’re concerned about their abilities, the study showed an increase in miles driven annually. And that means today’s seniors are remaining confident they’re mentally and physically up to the task.
2. Cars are safer
New safety features have made cars safer for everyone, but some improvements have particularly benefitted older drivers and passengers.
Seat belts. Some earlier seat-belt designs put seniors at risk of rib injuries. But updated versions reduce those risks through features like belt pretensioners (which tighten the belt during a crash, putting the occupant where they’ll be most protected) and load limiters (which loosen the belt if the force becomes too great).
Airbags. Front airbags protect people of all ages pretty equally. But side airbags that shield the head and torso are especially effective for occupants aged 70 and over, reducing fatalities by an estimated 45 percent.
Crash-avoidance technologies. Some new features can help drivers (older and otherwise) avoid accidents altogether. The Highway Loss Data Institute found 10 to 14 percent fewer damage claims from vehicles with forward collision avoidance systems and autonomous braking.
How to be a safer senior driver
If you rely on the convenience and independence of a car, you probably aren’t eager to give it up. Here are some tips for staying safe as you get older:
- Start a fitness routine to improve your strength and flexibility
- Have your eyes and hearing checked regularly
- Go over your medications with your doctor to prevent drug interactions or side effects that could impact your driving
- Sign up for a certified drivers safety course through the AARP or your local DMV (bonus: it could earn you a car insurance discount)
- If you’re feeling less confident behind the wheel, limit your driving to short trips (added bonus: driving fewer miles could also reduce your insurance rates)
5 ways to tell if you (or someone you love) should stop driving
Statistically, older drivers tend to be conscientious drivers — they’re more likely to use their seat belts and less likely to drive in poor conditions or after drinking. But even the most cautious drivers can find themselves impaired by decreased vision, slower reaction times, or other changes that come with age.
Maybe you’re an older driver concerned about your abilities, or maybe you’re starting to worry about an older family member. Here are 5 signs that a driver should consider hanging up their keys:
- Several traffic citations, fender benders, or close calls in the past 3 years
- Getting lost more frequently, even on familiar routes
- Difficulty turning their head to check for traffic at intersections or when changing lanes
- Family members expressing concern about their driving
- A tendency to respond more slowly or drift into other lanes
If it’s time to stop driving, there are lots of ways for seniors to stay mobile. The Eldercare Locator can help you find transportation options in your area.