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Older Drivers

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. The high death rate is due in large part to their frailty. Older people are less likely to survive an injury than younger people. By 2030 people age 65 and older are expected to represent 25 percent of the driving population and 25 percent of fatal crash involvements. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 30 million, or 15 percent, of licensed drivers were age 65 and older in the United States in 2006 (latest data available). NHTSA says 5,932 people age 65 and older were killed in traffic crashes in 2007. This represents 14 percent of all Americans killed on the road.

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.

KEY STATISTICS

In 2009 older drivers accounted for 16 percent of all traffic fatalities, 15 percent of vehicle occupant fatalities and 19 percent of pedestrian fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Older drivers involved in fatal crashes had the lowest proportion of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher of any group of adult drivers, 5 percent in 2009. Twenty-two percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes had a BAC of 0.08 percent or above, according to NHTSA.

In 2008 (latest data available), there were 32.2 million licensed older drivers (age 65 and over).

In 2008, 80 percent of traffic fatalities involving older drivers happened during the day. Sixty-nine percent involved another vehicle.

In two-vehicle fatal crashes involving an older driver and a younger driver in 2009, older drivers' vehicles were nearly twice as likely to be struck than younger drivers' vehicles (58 percent versus 34 percent). In 22 percent of these crashes, the older driver was turning left—four times more than the younger driver.

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

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. 

BACKGROUND

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.

Some 15 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 and New Hampshire drivers over age 75 must take a road test when they renew their license. Eight 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, by end-2009, 34 states and the District of Columbia mandated premium discounts for older adults. All but one of these states (Massachusetts) require older drivers (usually age 55 and over) to complete an approved accident prevention course. In addition, seven 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 the liability coverages because they are most relevant. However, the regulations 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.   Continued  
Used with permission of iii.org
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Older Drivers