New research finds that drivers age 70 and older are less dangerous on the roads than young men from ages 17 to 21, the group most prone to road accidents. The study, which was detailed at the British Science Festival in Swansea, England, this week, said that older drivers are involved in “3-4 times fewer accidents” than the younger men, Jonathan Sullivan reports for BBC News.
At the festival, Dr. Charles Musselwhite, associate professor of gerontology at Swansea University’s Centre for Innovative Ageing, spoke about the research.
Driving Studied in U.K.
The study involved an analysis of data on United Kingdom vehicle accidents. The research found that the older drivers made most of their mistakes when they made right turns [which in the U.K. is like making left turns here], and in passing vehicles in front of them. Older drivers can make driving mistakes when they feel pressured by others on the road.
By contrast, the young men are likely to be in crashes caused by driving too fast and losing control. Older drivers are not likely to be involved in dangerous driving, but are more likely to be involved in a crash than “the safest driving cohort in their 40s.” And there is an increased likelihood that people in the over-75 age group will be involved in accidents, which Musselwhite attributes to physical frailty.
Whereas older drivers are more likely to be involved in smaller impact collisions, younger men are more likely to have single-vehicle accidents. When it comes to older women, they are more likely to have small accidents when attempting tight maneuvers. The analysis found that older drivers are more likely to he involved in accidents with other older drivers, which would suggest that the errors they make are similar.
Older drivers compensate for declining abilities by driving more carefully and more slowly, by leaving more space between their vehicle and the one in front of them, by not driving in bad weather, and by avoiding heavy traffic, Musselwhite said. But he said this all might change with the trend towards longer lives and with people working later in life.
Testing Older Drivers
The professor said that programs in such countries as Australia and Denmark, in which older drivers were tested, have not improved road safety. He said there needs to be more rigorous testing of older drivers, especially eye testing. In addition, there needs to be monitoring of the effects that prescription drugs have on driving, he said.
Ann Brenoff writes for The Huffington Post that 33 states and the District of Columbia are retesting older drivers more often. But AARP has opposed the retesting, saying it has not been shown to be effective.
Clearly there are issues when conditions such as dementia or other health problems affect cognitive skills, but Prof Musselwhite says that denying old people a licence should not be taken lightly.
They often need to drive when public transport is not convenient and shops have moved from villages to out-of-town locations.
Musselwhite said driving is extremely important to older people, and that losing their driver’s license is akin to losing a limb. The loss of a driver’s license can lead to depression and loss of mobility.
Finding Infrastructure Solutions
Musselwhite suggested that changes in infrastructure could help a lot, as much existing infrastructure does not work well for older people. However, finding an infrastructure solution might not be simple. He said that while dedicated filter arrows for right turns across traffic (think: left turns in the United States) or wider lanes would help older drivers, such changes could inhibit the flow of traffic or encourage young drivers to speed.
In addition, older pedestrians do not walk as quickly as younger ones, causing a problem for the timing of traffic lights. Musselwhite looks forward to driverless cars, which will be very helpful for the elderly population.
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