So, are older drivers more likely to cause a motor vehicle accident? Sure, there is the stereotype – but is it true?
Well, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) published its “Traffic Safety for Older People – 5 Year Plan” back in 2013. So, the federal government thought the issue of older drivers was important enough to prepare a long-range plan for it. Read it here.
More Older Drivers on the Roads Today
Of course, part of the reason the federal government is concerned about older drivers on the road is because the Baby Boomer Generation is reaching retirement age. The average American can expect to live to the age of 80 years. That life expectancy is predicted to increase as time goes on. NHTSA predicts that at least 20% of the drivers on U.S. roads will be over the age of 65 within the next 15 – 20 years.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, there were over 40,000,000 older drivers in America as of 2015. That is a 50% jump up from the number of drivers over the age of 65 years back in 1999.
NHTSA forecasts an increase in “both the percentage and number of fatalities among older people in the coming years as the proportion of older people rises within the overall population.”
Risk of Accident in Older Drivers
It makes sense that there will be more injuries among older drivers simply because there will be more of them on the road. But are they at an increased risk for motor vehicle accidents than younger drivers?
Maybe not. According to a 2014 study published by the Loss Data Institute of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) older drivers are LESS LIKELY to be in a car crash.
Why? According to their research, seniors are in better physical and mental health than ever before. Baby Boomers take good care of themselves. Also, they are driving motor vehicles with advanced safety features and technology. Cars are safer now than they have been in the past.
In fact, IIHS found from 1995 – 2012 American drivers 70+ years old had better safety statistics than drivers between the ages of 35 to 54. Their data had fewer drivers in this elder category that died in fatal car crashes per miles driven than their younger counterparts.
Fatal Accidents and Older Drivers
AAA considers senior drivers to be safer than other driver groups. Reasons include senior drivers being less likely to drive while under the influence of alcohol, as well as being more like to obey the speed limit. Senior drivers are also more likely to take precautions like wearing their seat belts while driving.
However, overall there is still the fact that older drivers do have more fatal crashes than any other driver group other than teen drivers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 5700 drivers age 65 or older died in motor vehicle accidents in 2014. Another 236,000 were involved in crashes that required them to get emergency medical care. That’s 16 older driver deaths per day.
According to AAA, senior drivers have the highest crash death rate per mile driven of all drivers except teenagers even though these older drivers drive less miles than younger drivers do.
Fragility and Frailty in Senior Drivers
What’s happening here? One concern voiced by NHTSA is the increasing “fragility” and “frailty” of the senior driver. See NHTSA Report, page 3.
Fragility is defined as the “increasing likelihood of being injured in a crash, or one’s ability to tolerate a physical insult.” Frailty is the “diminished ability to recover from injuries and resume the level of daily life activity one enjoyed prior to being injured.”
As AAA points out, older drivers are more likely to be seriously injured or killed in a motor vehicle crash because they have “age-related vulnerabilities” like fragile bones and medical conditions (heart disease, diabetes, etc.). Also:
- 80% of drivers age 70 or more have systems of arthritis; and
- Over 75% of drivers age 65 or older will drive their motor vehicle while using one or more medications without being aware of how that drug might impact their ability to drive a motor vehicle.
Accident Claims Involving Older Drivers
The NHTSA Report shows that our roads are going to be driven more and more by drivers who are age 65 years and older. Not only will there be more senior drivers on our roadways, but it is expected that they will be driving more often and covering more miles than in past years.
The older drivers in Indiana, Illinois, and other parts of the country are more active than prior generations. They plan to keep driving as long as they are able to do so – much later in their lives than their grandparents did, for instance.
It is predicted that there will be more motor vehicle accidents involving drivers at or over the age of 65 years in the future. These drivers will likely suffer more serious injuries and more will die in these crashes than drivers who are younger.
However, the argument that an auto accident can be explained away as the fault of an older driver simply because that driver was involved in the crash is not legitimate.
The senior driver cannot be assumed to have caused the accident. The stereotype of the dangerous old man behind the wheel of the car, endangering lives on the road, is not supported by current research studies. Let’s all be careful out there!