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Unsafe at Any Speed: What is the Truth About Older Drivers?

Posted on Friday, November 30th, 2012 at 8:30 pm    

If we judge based on some recent headlines in the newspapers around the country it might seem like older drivers are a danger to society.  For example, an 86 year old man in Santa Monica, California recently made headlines when he drove his car into a crowded Farmer’s Market killing 10 people and injuring more than 70.  David Frum of the Daily Beast went so far as to declare in a recent article “They’re [elderly drivers] the worst drivers and we are too scared to tell them so.”  And in another article appearing in Fox News, the author referred to older drivers as a “silver tsunami.”

While we obviously need to be concerned about keeping our highways safe, statements like David Frum’s are rather extreme and probably unwarranted.  In fact, the well- respected Rand Corporation in a recent study regarding what risk older drivers pose to traffic safety concluded that drivers 65 and older are just 16% likelier than adult drivers (25-64) to cause an accident.  By comparison, the youngest drivers (under 25) are 188% likelier than adult drivers to cause a crash.  And according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “Nationally, the fatal crash involvement rate for drivers 70 and older declined from 1997-2008 and did so at a faster pace than the rate for drivers 35-54 years old.”

Still, everyone agrees that as we age, our physical and cognitive skills do decline. And several studies show that after reaching 85, drivers are significantly more likely to crash than even teenage drivers.

Since our independence is strongly connected to being able to drive in most areas of our country, older drivers are sometimes reluctant to give up driving even when they think they should because this also means losing their independence.  The challenge is how to keep our roads safe without stripping seniors of their independence.  Innovation may provide us the answer in the form of robotic cars.

Although such cars are still only experimental, several states including California and Florida, have now legalized the testing of robotic cars within their states.  Since the designers of these robotic automobiles are making rapid progress toward reliable and affordable robotic cars this might soon be an option for older drivers.   (For more information on robotic cars, see our prior blog articles on this subject.)

For information for safe driving tips for seniors see www.etide.state.pa.us/Default.aspx , and www.libertymutual.com/seniordriving

For information on refresher courses for the elderly see www.aarp.org/home-garden/transportation/driver-safety/.

For information regarding talking with older drivers about safe driving see www.dmv.state.pa.us/pdotforms/misc/Pub_345.pdf

For information regarding the best cars for older drivers see www.kiplinger.com/slideshow/best-cars-for-retirees-2011/1.html