Older, Wiser Drivers Indeed

April Fool’s Day marked the launch of a AAA Foundation effort to correct myths and misperceptions about traffic safety. First, we tackled the notion – too commonly held – that people riding in the back seat of a passenger vehicle don’t need to use their seatbelts. This week, we confront another myth: that older drivers pose an undue threat to the motoring public.

Well, it’s simply not true.

As anybody with an aging loved one doubtlessly knows, the issue of older driver safety and mobility is a difficult one, and can be fraught with tension, fear, and stress. As people age, they do often experience declines in certain abilities that are important for driving, and some high-profile crashes have captured media attention and contributed to the notion that seniors pose a menacing threat on the roadway.

In fact, teenagers have the highest crash rates of any age group (on average four times higher than those of others). Drivers in their 70s have crash rates that are nearly identical to those of drivers in their 30s, and drivers in their mid-late 80s have lower crash rates than those of drivers in their 20s.

The picture does get a bit more complicated when talking about fatal crashes, however, as it is true that drivers 85 and older have the highest rates in this area. Why is this the case? It’s because older drivers themselves are more likely to die if they get into a crash, not that they are more likely to get in a crash in the first place. Fragility – which makes surviving a crash more difficult – is the critical factor here.

This clarification is important for two main reasons. First, it points to occupant protection as an important countermeasure for older drivers that can mitigate the severity of crashes. Safer cars, forgiving roadway environments, efficient emergency response, and other strategies can be particularly important for older driver safety. Second, it helps dispel the notion that older drivers aren’t fit for the road, and redirects our attention to more productive efforts to keep seniors safe and mobile for as long as possible. Older drivers are among the most responsible on the road, taking proactive steps to mitigate risk and limit driving to favorable conditions.

Our full coverage of this myth is available here. And, as we mentioned on April Fool’s Day, we want to hear from you with any myths you’d like to see put to the test! Write to us at info@traffic-payout.org, or contact us on Facebook or Twitter. We’ll publish our findings as we dispel, or confirm, the myths submitted.