NMA Email Newsletter: Issue #81

Older Drivers = Better Drivers?

The first of the ubiquitous baby boomer generation, a demographic generally acknowledged to include those born between 1946 and 1964, will begin joining the older driver segment in less than six years. (For the purposes of discussion here, we will define older drivers as those aged 70 and above.) Will the nation’s highways become like a bumper car amusement park ride with all of those stereotypical accident-prone seniors on the prowl?

Not likely based on current trends. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety sponsored a June 2010 study by Cheung and McCartt entitled, “Declines in Fatal Crashes of Older Drivers: Changes in Crash Risk and Survivability.” The two researchers found that over the twelve year period of 1997 to 2008, the 70+ demographic of drivers drove an increasing number of miles, got involved in fewer crashes and had a fatal accident rate that trended downward. And during this period, the percentage of older drivers who held drivers licenses increased from 73 to 78.

Perhaps these trends of improvement are due to the factors that also help drivers in other age groups, such as safer cars and improved emergency medical care. The problem with that theory is that when Cheung and McCartt looked at the same trends for a control group of drivers between the ages of 35 and 54, they found that the 70+ group had a 14 percent steeper decline in fatal accidents and an 11 percent lower non-fatality accident rate during the same timeframe.

Whatever the reason, let’s hope those trends continue. The 70 and older crowd consisted of 27 million in 2008, or 9.1 percent of the U.S. population. In 2050, the older group is projected to be 67 million strong, or just over 15 percent of the population.

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