Big Safety Gains for Older Drivers

By Joan Lowy, Associated Press

Safety researchers expressed concern a decade ago that traffic accidents would increase as the nations aging population swelled the number ofolderdriverson the road. Now, they say theyve been proved wrong.

Older Asian driverTodaysdriversage 70 andolderare less likely to be involved in crashes than previous generations, and less likely to be killed or seriously injured if they do crash, according to a study released Feb. 20 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Thats because vehicles are getting safer and older adults are generally healthier, the institute said.

The marked shift began taking hold in the mid-1990s and indicates that, as boomers head into their retirement years, growing ranks of agingdriversarent making U.S. roads deadlier.

Related: AARP Driver Safety Courses and Resources

Traffic fatalities overall in the U.S. have declined to levels not seen since the late 1940s, and accident rates have come down for otherdriversas well. But since 1997,olderdrivershave enjoyed bigger declines as measured by rates of fatal crashes perdriverand per vehicle miles driven than middle-agedrivers, defined in the study as ages 35 to 54.

From 1997 to 2012, fatal crash rates per licenseddriverfell 42 percent forolderdriversand 30 percent for middle-age ones, the study found. As for vehicle miles traveled, fatal crash rates fell 39 percent for olderdriversand 26 percent for middle-age motorists from 1995 to 2008.

The greatest rate of decline was amongdriversage 80 and over, nearly twice that of middle-agedriversand driversages 70 to 74.

This should help ease fears that aging baby boomers are a safety threat,said Anne McCartt, the institutes senior vice president for research and coauthor of the study.

No matter how we looked at the fatal crash data for this age group by licenseddriversor miles driven the fatal crash involvement rates fordrivers70 andolderdeclined, and did so at a faster pace than the rates fordriversages 35 to 54,she said in a report on the studys results.

At the same time,olderdriversare putting more miles on the odometer than they used to, although theyre still driving fewer miles a year than middle-age drivers. This trend is especially true fordrivers75 andolder, who lifted their average annual mileage by more than 50 percent from 1995 to 2008.

The fact thatolderdriversincreased their average mileage … may indicate that they are remaining physically and mentally comfortable with driving tasks,the institute said. Whenolderdriversreduce the number of trips they take, its often because they sense their driving skills are eroding. They compensate by driving less at night, during rush hour, in bad weather or over long distances.

By 2050, the number of people in the U.S. age 70 andolderis expected to reach 64 million, or about 16 percent of the population. In 2012, there were 29 million people in the U.S. age 70 and over, or 9 percent of the population.

Photo:pkujiahe/istockphoto

EDITORS NOTE: Aging America is a joint AP-APME project examining the aging of the baby boomers and the impact this silver tsunami will have on the communities in which they live.

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