better than you might think?
Even though 80 is the new 60, declining vision and slower reaction time sometimes conspire to make older drivers more likely to be involved in an accident. But overall, older drivers may be safer than you suspect. We'll explain why and offer a few tips to determine the right time to hang up those keys.
Older drivers and car accidents
While official stats indicate that senior drivers are at a relatively higher risk of being in car accidents, the group is less dangerous than you might think. According to data for 2009 from the last U.S. Census, motorists age 75 and up were involved in almost 8 percent of fatal crashes despite making up 6.5 percent of the driving population. But drivers from all age groups below 35 had a higher rate of involvement in fatal crashes per capita.
Older drivers are improving
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found in a recent study that 30 percent fewer drivers over 70 died in accidents in 2010 than in 1997 — despite their growing numbers.
Looking at the stats, there's not a lot of hard evidence that driving in your golden years is any more dangerous than driving in your youth.
So why the bad rap?
Simply put, there are more older drivers on the road than ever before. This is a good thing — we're living longer and we're healthier in our later years. The IIHS reports that the number of licensed drivers age 70 and older increased by a whopping 26 percent between 1997 and 2010.
All of this is to say: if grandpa drives slowly and safely to the store and back and shows no sign of deteriorating driving skills, there's no need to stick a boot on his car.
On the other hand, age can lead to mental and physical conditions that do impair safe driving. It's these conditions, not old age itself, that you want to watch for.
Mental and physical impairments
As we get older, vision may change, our reflexes may slow, and it can take us longer to process our environment. Other health conditions require medication that makes driving more dangerous at any age, but especially dangerous for seniors.
There is one factor that can be blamed on age itself. Because older drivers are generally more fragile and susceptible to physical trauma, they're at a higher risk in an accident regardless of fault.
Signs it's time to stop driving
There's no magic age. As the saying doesn't really go, not all 80-year-olds are created equal.
Use your judgment to assess the situation, and keep an open line of communication. If you or a loved one is suffering from a medical condition that could impair driving ability, ask a doctor about it. Depending on the condition, your state may place restrictions on a drivers license. The goal of these restrictions is to establish safe driving times for older drivers and to keep the roads safer in general.
If there are no known restrictions or conditions, driving skills can still decline to the point that it's just not worth the risk. Here are some other signs that it may be time to call it a driving career:
- Driving too fast or slow
- Fender benders or close calls
- Getting lost frequently, especially in familiar areas
- Slow response time
- Trouble turning head to check for other cars
- Problems staying in lanes
- Getting more moving violations than ever before
Alternatives to taking the keys
Many senior drivers "self-limit" their driving, the IIHS reports. In other words, the older drivers become, the fewer miles they drive. Older drivers may tap into their wisdom to stay home during winter storms or when the roads are icy, as well. These practical measures reduce their risk of getting in an accident.
Defensive driving courses
It's also possible that an older driver's just a little rusty. After all, drivers ed was many moons ago.
For this reason, you may want to consider a certified mature driver safety course, available through organizations like AAA and AARP. Check with your state's DMV for more information.
As a nice added bonus, a completed defensive driving course could net you (or the driver in question) a car insurance discount.
Safely getting from A to B
To recap, a majority of older drivers are, in fact, safe drivers.
But on the flip side, age-related conditions can and do impact a driver's abilities. If you or a loved one sees signs of deteriorating driving skills, consider the options. Self-limiting allows older drivers to choose times, destinations, and weather conditions that reduce their risk. And a timely defensive driving course can bolster and reinforce safe-driving practices.
If and when it is time to put your driving career in Park, take heart: public transportation, dedicated van programs run by local communities, and volunteer drivers can safely get you from A to B.
One final insurance-related note for seniors
If you're a self-limiting driver, make sure your insurer knows your annual mileage. You just might be rewarded with a lower rate or a similarly money-saving low-mileage discount.
Find out about all of your various coverage options to make sure your policy matches your lifestyle.