Senior Drivers Aren't Unsafe Drivers

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter
Thursday, July 19, 2007; 12:00 AM

THURSDAY, July 19 (HealthDay News) -- Contrary to popular wisdom, older drivers are not much riskier than middle-aged drivers and are actually much less dangerous than teenage and college-age motorists, a new report finds.

The new study found that drivers aged 65 and older are only about 16 percent likelier to cause a crash than drivers aged 25 to 64. On the other hand, drivers aged 15 to 24 are 188 percent more likely than adult drivers to cause a crash.

The report, issued by the nonprofit RAND Corporation, casts doubt on policies that mandate stricter licensing requirements for seniors.

"Older drivers who do continue to drive are relatively safe," said David Loughran, lead author of the study and a senior economist with the RAND Corporation. "It's unclear if the benefits of improving licensing regulations based solely on age outweigh the costs. At best, the evidence on safety is ambiguous."

"This report looked at a larger number of crashes, so we finally have definitive evidence that older drivers are safer. We always say 'older drivers are wiser drivers,' " said T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, director for North America of Make Roads Safe, a nonprofit organization. "This will have significant policy implications, because it gives evidence that older drivers don't pose a risk to others as much as they pose a risk to themselves. We can look at ways to improve safety for older drivers rather than just regulations and being so draconian about some of policies."

Senior driving has long been a concern of policymakers. Many states, assuming that older drivers are more dangerous, have imposed stricter licensing requirements on seniors. Additional requirements are being considered as the population ages.

The concern has been fueled by a few high-profile incidents. In July of 2003, an 86-year-old man drove his car into a crowd of shoppers at a Santa Monica, Calif., farmers' market, killing 10 and injuring more than 50.

In October of 2005, a 93-year-old man struck a pedestrian in St. Petersburg, Fla., and only noticed the corpse hanging out of his windshield when alerted by a tollbooth operator.

According to the report, by 2025, drivers aged 65 and older will comprise one-quarter of the driving population.

Medical evidence is clear that, as people age, their ability to drive safely does become compromised. Loss of vision, including macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts, is a leading contributor to this problem.

On the other hand, many older drivers compensate for these changes by altering their driving behavior, experts say.

"Older drivers tend to self-regulate," Dinh-Zarr said. "They don't drive at night. They're careful about highway driving and intersections where they're more likely to be in a crash. They're already doing fairly good job on their own because they know their bodies have changed."

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