According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ( “Recent trends in older driver crashes”) people over 70 are holding onto their licenses longer and at the same time their crash risks is going down more than middle age drivers. In the United States in 2008 about 28 million people were older than 70. Of those about 78 percent had driver’s licenses. At the same time, fatal passenger vehicle crashes per licensed driver in this age group fell about 37 percent. The most dramatic decline was among drivers 80 and older, whose fatal crash rate went down by almost half.
“If the crash trends of drivers 70 and older had mirrored the experience of middle-age drivers, we estimate that about 10,000 additional older drivers would have been in fatal crashes during 1997-2008,” says Anne McCartt, Institute senior vice president for research and an author of the new report. Most of the additional deaths would have been among drivers 80 and older.
Part of the reason might be that older people are policing themselves. The ones who need to curtail driving, or stop altogether,may be doing so on their own. And state licensing policies can reinforce these self-imposed limitations.
As of last month, 18 states shorten the license renewal period. Vision tests are required for older drivers at every renewal in 9 states and road tests in 2. Older drivers in 7 states are prohibited from renewing licenses by mail or electronically.
“With or without state action, it looks like older people are doing a good job of addressing their own driving abilities,” says McCartt. “This may be a reason we’re not seeing the increases in older driver crashes and crash deaths that were anticipated a few years ago.”
Another reason might be improvement in older people’s health and physical conditioning. This could be reducing their risk of crashing and helping them fare better when they do crash. Older people may be benefiting more than younger motorists from vehicle crashworthiness improvements. They may be surviving crashes more often because of enhanced emergency medical services and trauma care.
Maybe that dreaded talk with mom and dad about giving up the keys to car wont be necessary after all.