It’s infuriating when a stereotype is used against you, especially when it comes to laying blame. Yet for years, we have all heard the tropes about older drivers.
They’re slow. They’re ill. They’re overly cautious. Their caution causes confusion and frustration, and it should be blamed for accidents. If you’ve been in a car accident, you may have heard these things said about you.
It’s not necessarily true that older people are more likely to be at fault than younger drivers, however. In fact, a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that drivers in their 70s are, on average, better drivers than their middle-aged peers.
The numbers don’t lie
The news does come as something of a surprise. With the Baby Boom generation reaching their 70s, many safety experts projected a “silver tsunami” of car crashes. This was based on the contemporary understanding of how risky older drivers are behind the wheel. Historically, older drivers had been much more likely to crash than other age groups.
That understanding has changed significantly in recent years, however. Now, drivers in their 70s are less likely to be involved in a fatal accident than people between the ages of 35 and 54.
What changed? According to the IIHS, several factors are at play. One is that older people are, on the whole, much healthier than they had been in the past. That not only means they have fewer medical conditions that could impair their driving, but it also means that they are more likely to survive a crash when they’re in one.
Another factor is increased safety in vehicles. We’ve seen a tremendous influx of safety technology over the past few decades, and some of that technology has substantially reduced the chance that any driver will be in a wreck. And, again, those who are in wrecks are more likely to survive because of improvements like air bags.
Third, there have been some improvements in our infrastructure that have reduced the probability of drivers being involved in crashes. For example, the Federal Highway Administration has made traffic signs easier to read. And, many risky intersections have been converted to safer types such as roundabouts.
Between 1997 and 2018, the fatal accident rate per licensed driver fell by 43% for drivers 70 and older. At the same time, the rate for drivers aged 35-54 only fell by 21%. That’s only one statistic from the report that indicates older drivers are safer.
One interesting side note: Older drivers are likely to hold onto older cars longer. That may mean that they are slower to obtain the newest safety tech. If so, their safety as drivers could continue to rise.