The number of senior drivers is on the increase. Today nearly 10% of U.S. drivers are 70 or older, an increase of more than 35% in the past 10 years. By 2030, one in five U.S. drivers will be 65 or older. Over the next few years, many adult children will be placed in the ironic and uncomfortable position of asking their aging parents for the car keys…permanently. Do aging drivers represent a disproportionate number of accidents, and if so, what is the impact of that on everyone’s auto insurance?
We all age differently and many of us will be able to drive safely into our 80s and beyond. However, statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicate that drivers 65+, who make up 13% of the total U.S. population, are responsible for 18% of all traffic fatalities. Seniors are more likely to get into multiple-vehicle accidents than younger drivers, too. Other statistics show that senior drivers are more likely to be cited for dangerous traffic infractions such as running red lights and stop signs, failure to yield, improper turning and the misapplication of accelerator instead of brake. And when they are involved in accidents, senior drivers are more likely to be seriously injured, hospitalized and die than are younger people involved in the same accident. All of these facts can certainly skew the actuarial tables and increase auto insurance rates.
Cognitive function impairment is one explanation for the higher number of senior-related driving accidents. As the brain ages, neurological processes slow down, diminishing vision and hearing, night blindness and reduced reaction time. More serious conditions like dementia exacerbate that. Other factors can include loss of feeling in the feet resulting from diabetes, or bad habits ingrained over a lifetime of driving such as using the left foot to brake. Some accidents and traffic citations have even been attributed to the wearing of thick, heavy orthopedic shoes causing the driver to overstep the pedals.
If you are a senior driver or have an aging parent who wants retain driving privileges, the mobility that comes with them and lower car insurance rates, there are some proactive steps that can be taken.
- Have annual vision and hearing tests. If glasses and hearing aids are prescribed, wear them while driving.
- Read the labels on all medications carefully. Be aware of any side effects such as dizziness or drowsiness. If you are affected, ask your doctor if there is a substitute, or don’t drive when you’re medicated.
- If you have limited mobility and slower reaction time an occupational therapist or driving rehab specialist may be able to prescribe equipment that makes it easier to use foot pedals and steer.
- Trade in your manual transmission vehicle for an automatic equipped with power steering and power brakes.
- Focus on driving. Avoid distractions such as chatting with passengers, eating, listening to the radio or talking on a mobile phone.
- Be honest. If you notice any signs of impaired driving due to aging, find alternative modes of transportation.