At least 78% of Americans aged 70 and older are still licensed to drive, according to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS). Popular opinion holds that older drivers pose a higher-than-average danger to themselves and others on the road. But do statistics bear that out? Maybe not.
Last year, IIHS reported a 37% decrease in the car accident fatalities among senior drivers. In fact, their fatal crash involvement dropped faster than that of drivers 35 to 54, who only showed a 23% drop in fatal auto crashed from 1997 to 2008.
Unfortunately, senior who are involved in accidents do tend to have the highest crash death rate per mile for all drivers except teens. Experts speculate that it could be because the elderly are more frail and less likely to recover from injuries than a younger driver.
Vision, hearing, reaction time and mobility all decrease with age, but on the whole, senior drivers are safe drivers. As a group, they obey speed limits (yes, sometimes erring on the side of overly cautious and too darned slow), don’t drink and drive, don’t take risks, and they use their seat belts. They carry insurance, too and their good driving records and low annual mileage help them qualify for cheaper auto insurance premiums and discounted rates.
Still, if you have an aging parent who is driving, it’s important to watch for signs that mom or dad’s road skills may be on the decline. Things to look for are new dents, dings and scratches on the car, recent traffic tickets, not wanting to drive at night or on freeways, complaining about speed limits being too high, and a reluctance among friends to ride when your parent is driving. You can assess the situtation by taking a ride with your parent every month or two to assess his or her skills.
And don’t be afraid or embarrassed to initiate a conversation if you suspect a problem. Major car insurer Liberty Mutual found in a recent survey that 94% of senior drivers interviewed said they would not be embarrassed discussing safe driving with their adult children. Another 92% said the kids have a right to raise the issue. If there is a problem, suggest a senior safe driving course or recommend alternative transportation solutions. If you’re genuinely concerned about your parent’s ability to drive safely, you have an obligation to report it to your Department of Motor Vehicles.