A new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety finds crash-related fatalities among older drivers has declined significantly in recent years. According to the study the number of deaths caused by auto accidents involving drivers 70 and older decreased by 42 percent between 1997 and 2012. Deaths among drivers aged 35 to 54 also declined during the same period, but only by 30 percent.
According to the IIHS, older drivers are involved in fewer automotive accidents than their younger counterparts, in part, because they tend to spend less time behind the wheel. However, their crashes- per-mile ratio typically begins to increase at age 70. By age 80, their accident rates are significantly higher than that of younger drivers.
IIHS senior vice president, and the study’s co-author, Anne McCartt says that between 1997 and 2012 the total number of auto accidents involving drivers 70 years of age and older declined by 25 percent. The overall number of automobile-related fatalities of people 70 and over, including drivers, passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, etc. declined by 31 percent.
McCartt said the agency doesn’t know for sure why the numbers have fallen. “One factor we think is very likely at work,” she says, “is that vehicles are safer, and there’s some evidence that some of the safety features on newer vehicles have benefited older drivers.”
Another contributing factor could very well be the improving overall health of the 70 and older demographic. “There are indications that older people are healthier.” McCartt says better health results in less physical and cognitive impairment which can cause drivers of any age to be more accident prone, and less likely to survive a serious crash.
According to the federal Census Bureau, the number of licensed drivers aged 70 and older increased by 30 percent between 1997 and 2012. In 2010 the demographic group accounted for only 9 percent of the total U.S. population, but the Bureau predicts that number will increase to 16 percent by 2050.