U.S. residents age 65 and over grew from 35.0 million in 2000 to 49.2 million in 2016. Americans age 65 and over accounted for 12.4 percent of the total U.S. population in 2000. By 2016 this proportion had grown to 15.2 percent, according to a Census Bureau report.
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), 40.1 million licensed drivers were age 65 and older in the United States in 2015. NHTSA says 6,165 people age 65 and older were killed in traffic crashes in 2015. This represents 18 percent of all Americans killed on the road. In addition, 240,000 older individuals were injured in traffic crashes in 2015.
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.
(As of October 2017)
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.
A 2014 study published in the journal Injury Epidemiology found that no policy in state drivers license renewal laws examined was found to have 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.
A 2018 report from TRIP, a nonprofit organization that studies transportation issues, notes the significant increase in the number of older drivers and the need 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.
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.
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