The entire nation is seeing lower death and crash rates but, surprisingly, experts are finding that those rates are falling fastest among older drivers.
According to a recent study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety looking at figures between 1995 and 2010, crash rates are highest for the nation’s youngest drivers, they fall as drivers age, and they then start ticking upward between 70 and 74 years old.
Based on the number of miles driven in a lifetime, drivers in their 70s are involved in crashes at about the same rate as drivers in their 30s, those aged 80-84 have crash rates mirroring drivers aged 25-59, and those aged 85 and older have rates similar to those in their early 20s.
Decreases in mileage-based crash involvement, injury and fatalities were largest for drivers aged 75-84 between 2005 and 2009.
The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) also recently released a study examining claims figures for older drivers. In light of the “silver tsunami” of aging baby boomers in the U.S., the Institute said in its November newsletter, traffic safety experts have worried that elderly drivers would bring a unprecedented number of crashes and deaths on roadways; the latest research findings on that subject buck that belief.
According to the AAA, the oldest drivers are not the most unsafe.
“In relation to the amount of driving that they did, drivers aged 85 and older posed about as much risk to other people outside of their vehicle as drivers in their early 20s did,” the report stated. “In relation to their share of the driving population, fewer other people were killed in crashes involving drivers ages 85 and older than drivers of any other age.”
In fact, older motorists may be getting better at driving. Based on mileage, crash rates between 1995 and 2009 fell 42 percent for drivers aged 75-79 and 40 percent for drivers aged 80-84, the largest decreases of any age group.
The HLDI report also found similar results for older drivers. Of drivers over 65 years old, only those aged 80 year old and over file claims at rates that are higher than average. Their rate was 23 percent higher than average. That rate is still far lower than those aged 15-19 and 20-24 years old, who have claims rates that are 68 percent and 53 percent higher, respectively, than the average.
Those claims rates are a reflection of what consumers would see when looking at car coverage prices over their lifetime. The youngest drivers pay the most for car coverage and then see those prices go down in middle age before ticking back up again as those drivers age.
Higher-Than-Average Death Numbers Due to ‘Elevated Risk of Death’
According to the AAA, older drivers showed some worrisome numbers in crash fatalities. Based on mileage, drivers aged 85 years old and over showed fatality rates that were twice as high as those aged 16- to 17-years old.
Also, death rates for that older age group was more than 10 times the rate of drivers aged 40-49, which had the lowest rates.
But those higher numbers are not a product of a perceived higher crash risk among older drivers but are instead linked to their increased likelihood of death in a crash, according to the report.
“It is because when they are in a crash, they are much more likely to be seriously injured because of the frailty of the human body,” Peter Kissinger, president for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, told the NBC Today Show.
Still, fatality rates are dropping at least somewhat among golden-aged drivers, and much of it can be attributed to better health care for the age group. In a 2010 study from HLDI on older drivers, senior vice president Anne McCartt said that “older people’s health and physical condition,” better medical treatment and more efficient crash tests were helping the age group weather bad crashes better.
Earlier this week, the AAA updated its resource listing of “Smart Features for Older Drivers,” which was created in 2008 in a partnership with the University of Florida (UF). According to the group, 9 out of every 10 drivers aged 65 years old and over suffer from health conditions that impact driving safety, while only 1 in every 10 with such conditions drive a car sporting features that address them, including keyless entry and larger dashboard controls.