View from the Top
Are older drivers high-risk drivers?
By A. Karl Halbedi
I t is often said that older drivers are the most dangerous drivers on the
road. But how accurate is public opinion to the real risk aging drivers pose? In fact, teenage drivers—not older drivers—pose the greatest risk by far to other drivers or pedestrians, according to a recent study by the AAA Founda tion for Traffic Safety.
The study analyzed government data on fatal motor vehicle crashes from 1999 through 2003, and national travel esti mates from 2001, to estimate the risks that drivers of various ages would be involved in and likely have at least some degree of responsibility for crashes fatal to themselves and to others. The risk of being involved in a fatal crash was shown to be highest when teens are first licensed. From there the risk declines until around age 65, and it isn’t until age 70 that the risk is shown to start increasing again.
So the quick answer is “yes,” elderly drivers are at a higher risk of being involved in a fatal accident. However, the risk they pose is primarily to themselves rather than other drivers. Drivers ages 85 and older were found to have the highest risk of being involved in and responsible for crashes in which they themselves died. Previous studies have suggested this is due to their likelihood of being seriously injured or killed if they are involved in a crash more than their increased risk of causing crashes in the first place.
Conversely, drivers under age 20 were found most likely to be involved in and responsible for crashes fatal to others, whether in relation to the number of older drivers on the road or in relation to the amount that they drive.
“Mile per mile, the average 80-year-old driver may pose a lit tle bit more risk to you and me than the average 30-year-old does, but they drive so much less that it more than makes up for the differ ence,” explained the Foundation’s Senior Research Associate and study author Brian Tefft, “so the 30-year-old driver is actually more likely than the 80-year-old to cause harm to you or me over the course of a year, and a typical 30-year- old driver poses more of a threat to you or me than the average 70-year-old does, no matter how you look at it.”
The question arises then, given all the negative public sentiment toward senior drivers, how concerned should the rest of the driving population be about aging drivers?
“Stories about bizarre crashes involving elderly drivers crashing into crowds of people are tragic, but they’re also very, very unusual,” said J. Peter Kissinger, the AAA Foundation’s Presi dent and CEO. “Our other studies tell us that some older drivers do indeed have health problems or cognitive issues : that call into question their ability to drive safely, and we need to continue to work to find ways to meet the mobility needs of those who really shouldn’t be driving, but the story that always gets lost is that the great majority of older drivers are actually very safe.” GP
To view the full study report, visit www.aaafoundation.org
— Roadwise Review
Recognizing the need for evaluation is one of the easiest ways all of us can help potentially at-risk seniors determine if they are fit to drive. AAA Roadwise Review: A Tool to Help Seniors Drive Safely Longer is a scientifically validated screening tool created by AAA and transportation safety researchers. This CD-ROM allows seniors to privately measure their functional ability - in eight areas shown to increase the risk of crashes
among seniors. These areas include: Leg Strength and General Mobility, Headl Flexibility, High and Low Contrast Visual Acuity, Working Memory, Visualization of Missing Information, Visual Search, and Useful Field of View.
To obtain a copy of J Roadwise Revieu contact your local AAA club.