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As U.S. ages, older drivers proving to be safe behind the wheel

There have long been negative stereotypes about older drivers – they’re too slow, they can’t see very well, they can’t react quickly enough and they often drive for miles with their turn signal on – just to name a few. Many of these stereotypes were unfounded, but some were backed by statistical data; particularly those regarding accident rates.

Historically, older drivers have been compared to newly licensed teen drivers in the sense that both groups have a higher-than-average risk of car accidents. Additionally, older drivers were more likely to be killed in crashes that might otherwise cause injury in middle-aged drivers. About a decade ago, safety advocates warned that the dangers posed by elderly drivers would get progressively worse as the Baby Boom generation aged and caused an increase in the number of elderly drivers on the road. Thankfully, those predictions were apparently wrong.

A report recently released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reveals that today’s drivers age 70 and older have lower crash rates and lower crash fatality rates than previous generations of drivers in this age group.

There are two main reasons for this, according to the IIHS. The first is that the safety of vehicles is improving overall. Second, today’s seniors are generally healthier than in the past. Better health might improve road safety in at least two ways.

First, it likely means that older drivers are maintaining their motor skills longer (no pun intended). As such, eyesight, coordination and reaction times are likely to be more like those of middle-aged drivers. Second, seniors who maintain good health are more physically resilient and may have a better chance of surviving a crash.

As of 2012, about 9 percent of the U.S. population was age 70 or older. In real terms this amounts to about 29 million people. It is estimated that by 2050, there will be 64 million Americans in this age group, which will account for about 16 percent of the population.

We are already seeing more elderly drivers on the roads here in Tennessee and around the nation. Over the next few decades they will become even more commonplace. Hopefully, the current safety trends among older drivers are a sign of good things to come.

Source: Associated Press, “Accident Rates Improving For Older Drivers,” Joan Lowy, Feb. 20, 2014

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