elderly drivers

Haven't you heard? 80 is the new 60. Though father time can put motorists at increased risk, overall older drivers are much safer than you might 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 from the last U.S. Census, motorists age 75 and up were involved in almost 8 percent of fatal crashes, a smaller rate per capita than all age groups below 35.

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.

signs it’s time to stop driving

On the other hand, for many of us there comes a time when driving simply isn't safe. It's not old age itself that's the problem, but rather certain mental and physical conditions sometimes brought on by age that impair safe driving.

As we get older, for instance, 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.

There's no magic age when you know your time driving is over. 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.

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.

As a nice added bonus, a completed defensive driving course could net you (or the driver in question) a car insurance discount.

life after driving

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 low-mileage discount.

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