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. However, a 2020 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study found that despite the growing number of drivers over the age of 70, they are now involved in fewer fatal crashes. The study, Continued trends in older driver crash involvement rates in the United States: data through 2017–2018, concludes that while fatal crash involvement for drivers age 70 and over have increased in recent years, they are lower than their peak in 1997 while the number of drivers in that age group and their mileage has increased. The authors attribute some of the improvement to better health, and think that as these drivers acquire vehicles with improved crashworthiness their crash survivability will improve.
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 and the AAA Foundation for Highway Safety to create programs designed to address these needs.
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.
A 2018 study from TRIP, a nonprofit organization that studies transportation issues, calls for transportation improvements that will enable older Americans to maintain their mobility. Since there are about 46 million people age 65 or older, projected to more than double to over 98 million by 2060, roadway safety improvements are increasingly important as 90 percent of travel for this demographic takes place in a private vehicle. Almost 80 percent live in auto-dependent suburban and rural areas. Public transit accounts for only two percent of trips for older Americans. Ridesharing services can help seniors maintain their mobility although they often require the use of smartphones, which are owned by under one-third of older Americans. Self-driving and connected vehicles hold much promise for the mobility of older Americans.
Many states routinely attempt to identify, assess and regulate older drivers with diminishing abilities who cannot or will not voluntarily modify their driving habits. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 23 states enacted laws that require older drivers to renew their drivers licenses more often than the rest of the state’s residents. In addition, 19 states require more frequent vision tests for older motorists. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia prohibit older drivers from renewing licenses by mail or online.
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.
A 2014 study published in the journal Injury Epidemiology found that no policy in state drivers license renewal laws examined had a significant impact on fatal crash involvement of drivers younger than 85 years of age. However, two provisions had some effect on the involvement of older drivers in fatal crashes. Mandatory in-person renewal was associated with a 31 percent reduction in the fatal crash involvement rates of drivers ages 85 and older. In states where in-person renewal was not required, requiring drivers to pass a vision test was associated with a similar reduction for drivers age 85 and older. But in states where in-person renewal was required, mandating a vision test was not associated with any additional reduction, along with requiring a knowledge test or an on-road driving test. Results were also not statistically significant for laws that require more frequent renewal or requiring healthcare providers to report cases concerning their patients’ driving ability.
According to the AARP, some states have a law that mandates an automobile insurance discount for anyone completing an approved driver improvement course. Specific state insurance laws vary and individual states may place additional restrictions on eligibility for automobile insurance reductions or discounts. In some states, separate rules may apply to online driver improvement courses.
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