Older driverIn the foreseeable future, according to a new study, the number of car accidents will remain stable or perhaps even decline, despite the growing number of older people who are driving, and despite that group’s higher rate of insurance claims, as Richard Read reports on The Car Connection. The study, by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HDLI), said that the reasons for the decline are not clear, but, as Read writes, AAA discovered earlier this year that older drivers tend to “self-police their driving habits to avoid causing accidents.”

“Age-related impairments can affect a person’s driving, so concern over the country’s changing demographic makeup is understandable,” says HLDI Vice President Matt Moore, in the IIHS Status Report that mentions the HLDI study. “However, when we look at the overall number of claims, this isn’t the looming crisis some have made it out to be.”

According to an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study of road accidents and fatalities between 1997 and 2009, the fatal crash rate dropped by nearly half for motorists ages 80 and older. That study found that the rate fell 23% for drivers in the 35 to 54 age group, Read writes.

While the number of older drivers is increasing, in what the IIHS calls a “silver tsunami” in its recent report, the number of youngest drivers (ages 17 and under) is decreasing due to a combination of factors.

Read writes:

For example, as panelists at SEMA recently lamented, just 49% of Americans 17 and under have driver’s licenses today, compared to 79% in 1978. Moreover, many young people live in urban areas where owning a vehicle is both impractical and unnecessary. And frankly, social media makes in-person interaction (and thus, driving) far less important to today’s  teens.

Read points out that the IIHS report did not factor in the growing number of auto safety systems that are available on modern vehicles, such as lane-assist, brake-assist, and collision-avoidance. He writes: “Before long, we’d expect to see most of those devices come standard. That could reduce collision rates across the board — not just among older drivers.”

As the Status Report explains, the HLDI study looks only at collision claims, most of which are for low-severity crashes; it does not offer predictions about serious crashes or fatalities. Older drivers have higher rates of fatal crashes mostly because their fragile health makes them more likely than other drivers to die in a crash, the report says. Although it is possible that demographic changes could result in a higher rate of fatal crashes, improvements in the health of older drivers could make them less likely to be killed in crashes than they are now, the report notes.

The report goes on to say: “Previous research by IIHS found that older drivers are not only less likely to be involved in crashes than they used to be, they are less likely to be killed or seriously injured when they do crash (see Status Report, June 19, 2010).”

The Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles writes that it “wants older drivers to maintain their driving independence as long as they continue to drive safely and confidently.” The division says that once drivers in the state turn 60, they are expected to renew their license every five years.

Image by Denis Dervisevic.

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