In a world where good news is scarce, safety researchers at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Washington released a study that should comfort Americans everywhere. Traffic deaths across U.S. have fallen to levels not seen since the 1940s, and accident rates have come down for other drivers as well. This has come as a surprise, because the same researchers had predicted a rise in accidents as the population aged. Since 1997, however, older motorists have seen the biggest decline as measured in both deadly crash rates per driver and per vehicle miles driven than middle-age drivers, which are defined in the study as ages 35 to 54.
Anne McCartt, the institute’s senior vice president for research and co-author of the study, released a statement outlining its findings:
”This should help ease fears that aging baby boomers are a safety threat. No matter how we looked at the fatal crash data for this age group — by licensed drivers or miles driven — the fatal crash involvement rates for drivers 70 and older declined, and did so at a faster pace than the rates for drivers ages 35 to 54.”
The Association of American Retired Persons, the association that represents older Americans known as the AARP, hailed the report and said that it ”dispels common misconceptions and reveals positive trends related to older drivers.”
The researchers had expressed concern more than decade ago that traffic accidents could increase as the nation’s aging population grew with the number of baby boomers entering old age. Now, they say they’re being proven wrong as fatalities fall and safety statistics look rosier every year. The change began in the mid-1990s, and indicates that the swelling ranks of older drivers aren’t making U.S. roads deadlier.
Between 1997 and 2012, deadly car crashed per licensed driver declined 42 percent for older drivers and 30 percent for middle-age ones, the Institute said. Per vehicle miles traveled, fatal crash rates plunged 39 percent for older drivers and 26 percent for middle-age ones from 1995 to 2008. However, most shockingly, the largest share of decline was among drivers age 80 and over, nearly twice that of middle-age drivers and drivers ages 70 to 74.
Drivers today that are aged 70 and older are less likely to be involved in crashes than previous years and are less likely to be killed or seriously injured if they do crash, according to a study released Thursday. That’s because vehicles are getting safer and seniors are generally getting healthier, the institute said. This is absolutely critical, because numbers tell how rapid the aging of the American population is growing. In the year 2050, the number of people in America aged 70 and older is expected to surpass 64 million, or around 16 percent of the population. Two years ago, there were around 29 million people in the U.S. aged 70 and over, or just under 9 percent of the population.
The bottom line: experts agree. Older Americans are better drivers than previously thought, and that means safer roads in the future as the country ages. Alan Pisarski, the author of the authoritative ”Commuting in America” series of reports on driving trends, underscored this:
”The main point is that these 70-80 year olds are really different than their predecessors. They learned to drive in a very different era. They are far more comfortable driving in freeway situations. This matters immensely for the future because we are seeing dramatic increases in older workers staying in the labor force and continuing to work and commute well past 65.”
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