NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 15, 2009

Drivers over 70 are keeping their licenses longer and driving more than earlier generations, a trend that has led to dire predictions about car accident risks for aging baby boomers.  But new research shows that fatal car accidents involving older drivers have actually declined markedly in the past decade, says the New York Times.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:

  • Fatalities per capita among older people have decreased 35 percent since 1975 and are now at their lowest level.
  • And while fatal crashes are declining over all, the rates for older driving deaths are falling the fastest; from 1997 to 2006, the annual decline in fatal crashes among middle-age drivers was 0.18 per 100,000 licensed drivers.
  • By comparison, the decline for drivers ages 70 to 74 was 0.55 fatal crashes per 100,000 licensed drivers, and for those over 80 it was 1.33.
  • Older drivers are also less likely to cause drunken-driving accidents; in 2007, just 6 percent of drivers 70 and older who died in crashes had blood-alcohol levels above the legal limit, while figure for fatally injured drivers ages 16 to 59 was 41 percent.

Further research is being conducted to determine why the risks appear to be going down for older drivers, says the Times.  It may be that today's older drivers are simply in better physical and mental shape, so they are less likely to make a driving mistake, less frail and better able to survive injuries.  Or it could be that driving patterns among older adults have changed, leading to more highway driving, which is safer than driving on local roads.

Moreover, older drives may be more likely than in the past to wear a seat belt or to drive a safer car.  And, research also suggests education campaigns have increased awareness about older driving risks.

Source: Tara Parker-Pope, "An Epidemic of Crashes Among the Aging? Unlikely, Study Says," New York Times, January 13, 2009.

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