Older drivers have higher rates of fatal crashes, based on miles driven, than any other group except young drivers, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The high death rate is due in large part to their frailty. Older people are less likely to survive an injury than younger people. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 36.8 million licensed drivers were age 65 and older in the United States in 2013. By 2020 there will be more than 40 million drivers on the road in this age group. NHTSA says 5,671 people age 65 and older were killed in traffic crashes in 2013. This represents 17 percent of all Americans killed on the road. In addition, 222,000 older individuals were injured in traffic crashes in 2013.
There is a growing need to help older drivers sharpen their skills as well as recognize their changing abilities and adapt their driving practices appropriately. Insurers have partnered with state and local governments, and groups such as AARP, to create programs designed to address these needs. In addition, an increasing number of states routinely attempt to identify, assess and regulate older drivers with diminishing abilities who cannot or will not voluntarily modify their driving habits.
- In 2013, older drivers involved in fatal crashes accounted for 7 percent of all drivers who had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or above, the lowest amount for any age group. Twenty-one percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes had a BAC of 0.08 percent or above, according to NHTSA.
- In 2013, 75 percent of traffic fatalities involving older drivers happened during the day.
- In February 2014 the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Highway Loss Data Institute (IIHS) released a report showing that older drivers are now less likely to be involved in a crash and less likely to be injured or killed. The institute attributes the improvement to safer vehicles and better senior health. The report, which tracked data from 1995 to 2012, found that drivers age 70 and over had bigger declines in fatal crash rates per licensed drivers and per vehicle miles traveled than middle-aged drivers, ages 35-54. The trend is significant because older drivers have higher rates of fatal crashes, based on miles driven, than any other group except young drivers. Despite the improvement, older drivers continue to have higher rates of fatal crashes than most other age groups.
- At least two insurers have adopted computer-based training programs for older drivers, which are designed to improve drivers’ useful field of vision—the visual area over which information can be extracted at a single glance. Studies have shown that drivers who have a limited useful field of vision are twice as likely to experience a crash. Although the range of the useful field of vision declines with age, research shows that it can be improved with brain training. In fact, specific training lasting only 10 hours has been shown to produce impressive reductions in driving risk and crashes.
- The following chart shows how often states require older motorists to renew their drivers licenses. Accelerated or shortened renewal frequencies are listed along with the age that motorists must comply with them. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 19 states and the District of Columbia require older drivers to renew their drivers licenses more often than the rest of the state’s residents. The chart also lists the states that require older motorists to pass particular tests and the age at which they must comply, states that require doctors to report serious medical problems and states that prohibit older drivers from renewing licenses by mail. In addition, many states encourage doctors to report people whom they consider unsafe drivers due to medical problems to the department of motor vehicles, and provide immunity from civil action if the report is made in good faith (See “Physician’s Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers”, American Medical Association.)
INVOLVEMENT OF THE OLDER POPULATION IN TRAFFIC FATALITIES, 2003 AND 2012
DRIVERS IN MOTOR VEHICLE CRASHES BY AGE, 2013
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that older drivers are keeping their licenses longer and driving more miles than ever before. The high fatality rates of this age group reflect the fact that older drivers are more easily injured than younger people and are more apt to have medical complications and die of those injuries. According to the Governors Highway Safety Administration, impairments in three key areas—vision, cognition and motor function—are responsible for higher crash rates for older drivers. Vision declines with age; cognition, which includes memory and attention, can be impacted by medical problems such as dementia and medication side effects; and motor function suffers as flexibility declines due to diseases such as arthritis.
Licensing Requirements and Restrictions: Some states restrict driving activities for people with certain medical conditions or after a serious accident or traffic violation. Depending on their ability, older drivers may be limited to driving during daylight hours or on nonfreeway types of roads. In most states restrictions such as these can be placed on anyone’s drivers’ license, regardless of age, if his or her medical condition warrants it.
Nine states require doctors to report any dangerous medical conditions that can impair a patient’s driving. Although this requirement covers drivers of all ages and a variety of medical conditions, at least one state—California—specifically requires doctors to report a diagnosis of dementia, which is a common symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. The importance of such requirements was highlighted by a study of accidents in Sweden and Finland, which found that one-third of drivers age 65 to 90 who were killed in crashes had brain lesions commonly found in Alzheimer’s patients, and another 20 percent had lesions that may indicate an early form of the disease.
Ten states currently require older drivers to take vision tests at license renewal (see chart). According to University of Baltimore and the Johns Hopkins University research reported in 1995, in the 38 states that mandated vision tests for license renewals at the time of the study, drivers age 70 or older were involved in 17.2 fatal accidents per 100,000 older drivers. In states where no testing was required, the ratio was 18.7 fatal crashes. Researchers characterized the difference as small but significant, especially since the number of 70 and older drivers was expected to grow substantially. A handful of states mandate other testing for older drivers at license renewal. For instance, in Illinois drivers over age 75 must take a road test when they renew their license. Eleven states mandate that older drivers must renew their licenses in person; ages at which this takes effect vary from 65 years of age to 79.
Insurance Discounts: According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, as of January 2015, 34 states and the District of Columbia mandated premium discounts for older adults. (These state laws have not been changed since February 2013.) All but Massachusetts require older drivers (usually age 55 and over) to complete an approved-accident prevention course. In addition, 12 states mandate discounts to all drivers (including older drivers) who take defensive driving or other drivers’ education courses. In general, the state-mandated discounts apply to liability coverages because they are most relevant. The regulations can vary by state. For instance in Massachusetts the older adult discount applies to all coverages for drivers over the age of 65.
In addition, some insurance companies offer discounts in the states in which they do business for drivers who complete defensive driving or other approved courses, including discounts for seniors who take AARP courses.
National websites of interest include:
- AARP - http://www.aarp.org
- FHWA Older Drivers – http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/older_users/#facts
- NHTSA Older Driver – http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/olddrive/
- AAA Foundation for Safety – http://www.aaafoundation.org/home
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, License Renewal Procedures – http://www.iihs.org/laws/olderdrivers.aspx
- American Medical Association – http://www.ama-assn.org/
- ITNAmerica: Dignified transportation for seniors – http://www.itnamerica.org/
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