Your parents are getting on in age and they’ve gotten used to their way of doing things. You think driving in their old age might be getting dangerous. A touchy conversation, to be sure, but it’s often unavoidable for any of us with aging parents who get behind the wheel regularly.
Thankfully, that touchy subject might not be coming as early as you fear, according to new research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an industry-funded group that conducts crash tests and safety research.
The statistics in a new IIHS report show drivers 70 and over are getting into fewer fatal accidents and fewer accidents in general than in previous generations. Better yet, those shrinking trends are despite the fact that older motorists are actually driving more.
Injury Concerns Peaked More than a Decade Ago
The Institute says elderly drivers are “fit for the road.” But rewind to the year 2001, and the headlines were a little different: “Older Drivers Up Close: They Aren’t Dangerous, Except Maybe to Themselves.”
That title was a warning to the era’s large group of baby boomers: Check your driving skills, because old age means not only a bigger chance of crashing—it also means a bigger chance of getting hurt in them.
Now, the IIHS says it sees credible evidence for toning down that warning. The Institute’s latest report broke down the figures between 1997 and 2012, when “fatal crash involvement” per licensed driver fell:
- 36% for drivers between 70 and 74 years old
- 46% for drivers between 75 and 79 years old
- 49% for drivers 80 years old and older
The overall drop for older drivers was 42%. Meanwhile, involvement rates for middle-aged drivers fell only 30% during the same period.
The Institute said the drop in involvement rates was greater for older drivers compared to middle-aged drivers “no matter how we looked at the fatal crash data.”
“This should help ease fears that aging baby boomers are a safety threat,” says Anne McCartt, a senior vice president for research at the Institute and the study’s co-author. “Even crashes among the oldest drivers have been on a downswing.”
Better Crash Figures Could Be Due to Better Driver Protection
Today’s cars are getting better at protecting drivers behind the wheel, and older drivers may be enjoying the best of those improvements, the Institute says.
“Some vehicle improvements may have benefitted older drivers more than middle-aged drivers, and evidence suggests that this has been the case with occupant protection technologies,” according to the report.
A car’s occupant protection devices go beyond the quality of seat belts and airbags promoted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The IIHS, which determines vehicle crashworthiness in crash tests, says that good occupant protection means “good structure.” The Institute says that if a driver finds himself or herself shopping for a safe car for their parents, they should ask a few things about good structure:
- Does it have a strong occupant compartment?
- Are there appropriate crumple zones to absorb the force of a serious crash?
- Is there a strong side structure that manages the force of striking a vehicle/object?
- Will the roof collapse if the vehicle rolls over in a crash?
The IIHS assesses all of these factors in its “Top Safety Pick” crash tests.
Here are other resources for elderly drivers and children of aging parents who want to know more about driving in older age:
- AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety: Motor Vehicle Crashes, Injuries, and Deaths in Relation to Drive Age
- MIT Agelab & The Hartford: Safe Driving and Lifelong Transportation