According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there are more than 20 million drivers age seventy and older on the roads today. What does that mean to you? In Illinois alone, more than 796,000 residents over seventy have valid drivers’ licenses, including one 106 year-old man. As scary as that sounds, the national figure is expected to triple by 2030 as motorists sixty-five and older will account for 57 million individuals in the population.
While our parents and grandparents deserve to be treated with respect, the fact is that their determination to live an independent lifestyle can put others in danger. With slower reflexes, poor vision, and diminished awareness of their surroundings, elderly drivers can place other drivers and pedestrians in harm’s way. Every so often, we hear about horrific accidents where an elderly driver kills innocent bystanders by veering across a lane, driving into a busy area, or pushing the wrong pedal. It is easy to assume that all elderly drivers are a hazard to the public and should not be allowed to drive.
However, despite growing numbers, fewer seniors were involved in fatal collisions from 1997 to 2006 than in years past, according to an insurance institute study conducted in 2008. Russ Rader, a spokesman for the insurance institute, believes elderly drivers have been improving their driving skills over the past decade. The insurance institute attributes this change to seniors becoming self-regulating in their driving habits and avoiding rush hour and night driving as well as the dramatically improved health of seniors. Some experts believe that overall health is more critical to driving skill than age. Perhaps surprisingly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety indicates that the safest drivers are in the age group between sixty-four and sixty-nine years-old.
Senior drivers have higher crash rates per mile driven, especially fatal crashes. However, this statistic may be misleading, since seniors tend to drive fewer miles. In fact, the rate of fatalities per capita among seniors has decreased 40% since 1975 and is now at its lowest level. While elderly drivers may pose a threat, statistically, teenagers account for more crashes and fatalities on the road. With varying skill and mental and physical capabilities, elderly drivers should be allowed to take to the road so long as they can do so safely and responsibly. To keep the roads safe, it is important that all drivers, regardless of age, are educated, experienced, and exercise good judgment.
Since age is not always an accurate measure of one’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, how do you think we should address the issue of elderly drivers? In other words, how old is too old?