Until recently, conventional wisdom suggested that as drivers age, their driving skills decline. Research has supported that notion. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has described car accident statistics like a letter “U,” with teenage drivers causing the most accidents at one end of the age scale and senior drivers over age 70 at the other.
However, as overall U.S. car accident injury and fatality rates have declined since 2008 (thanks to public safety campaigns, vehicle safety enhancements, improved traffic engineering and stricter law enforcement) — so have some accident injury and fatality statistics for older drivers. The AAA Foundation for Safety found the following motor vehicle accident trends for drivers of all ages between 1995 and 2010:
“While drivers of all ages experienced decreases in rates of crashes, injuries, and deaths over the study period, decreases in population-based and driver-based rates were largest for teenage drivers; decreases in mileage-based rates of crash involvement, injury, and death were largest for drivers aged 75-84.”
The study also found that “…drivers in their 70’s were involved in approximately the same number of crashes per mile driven as drivers in their 30’s, drivers ages 80-84 had mileage-based crash rates similar to drivers ages 25-59, and drivers ages 85 and older had mileage-based crash rates similar to drivers ages 20-24.”
Note these decreases in motor vehicle accident statistics for older drivers are related to mileage-based crashes, i.e., statistical rates per mile driven.
With people living past age 100 today, driving is a key way for many to preserve their independence. With wisdom and experience under their belts, many seniors continue to safely drive well into their 80s and 90s, depending on their health and ability to operate a motor vehicle, follow traffic signals and respond to the unexpected.
Some states, such as Maryland, have regulations for senior drivers. Maryland may require drivers over age 70 to get a physician’s letter proving their competence to drive before they can renew their driver’s licenses. This occurs in cases where the driver’s physical or mental ability comes into question. Drivers considered unsafe may be reported to the Medical Advisory Board. Maryland also has a restricted driver’s license (often for people with visual impairment) that puts restrictions on when, where and how far one can drive.
Seniors are the fastest-growing group of drivers. The AAA Foundation projects that by 2025, people over age 65 will comprise 25 percent of all drivers. With so many people working well past the traditional retirement age and living active lives, when is it time to give up the keys? That continues to be a topic for debate among lawmakers, medical professionals, and families.
We’ve all seen seniors driving who probably shouldn’t be — those who can’t see over the steering wheel or are driving way too slow (to the honking ire of tailgaters). Our hearts go out to them and their families. No one wants to end their driving career with a catastrophic accident with injury or death.
It’s up to states like Maryland with senior driving requirements to work with medical professionals and families to keep everyone safe on our roadways. The good news is traffic accident rates are down for seniors, based on the number of miles they drive (which often is just to the store, to visit family members, and yes, to church). However if and when seniors surrender the keys should remain an open discussion for families and their doctors.
Related Baltimore Accident Injury Attorney Article:
Older Driver Car Crashes a Concern in Baltimore, Maryland and Across the U.S. (Nov. 2013)
Motor Vehicle Crashes, Injuries, and Deaths in Relation to Driver Age: United States, 1995 – 2010
AAA Foundation for Safety
Senior Drivers in Maryland
Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles