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Safety and Senior Drivers

By the year 2020, adults aged 65 and older are projected to make up 20 percent of the population. With better health and medical care, many of these seniors will continue to drive well into their 70s and beyond. What does having an elder driver in the family mean for safety and your auto insurance?

Elderly drivers experience higher crash death rates per mile driven than people in any other age group, except teenagers. By age 85, drivers are four times more likely to be killed in an auto accident than drivers age 55-64, probably due to their greater frailty.

Older drivers also pose safety problems for pedestrians. Although older drivers comprised about 10 percent of the driving population in 2003, they were involved in 16.3 percent of pedestrian fatalities.

On the positive side, older drivers are much less likely to speed than younger drivers, particularly teenagers, so they are less likely to injure other drivers.

Elderly drivers also drive much less than other drivers—a male driver age 85 drives 64 percent fewer miles per year than a 65-year-old. As a result, elderly drivers have lower crash rates, even though their crash rates on a miles-driven basis are higher than those of middle-aged drivers.

If you’re age 65 or older or have an elderly family member who is still driving, here are some practical things to consider to ensure safety:

  1. Vision changes. By age 70, 12 percent of men and 15 percent of women reported some visual impairment. By age 85, those percentages increase to 26 percent and 34 percent respectively. As we age, the lenses of the eyes lose their flexibility, making it more difficult to change focus quickly and leading to loss of clarity. Perhaps more importantly, as we age, less light entering the eye reaches the photoreceptors. A 60-year-old perceives only one-third the light that a 20-year-old perceives under similar conditions. This affects visual acuity, peripheral vision and color perception. For these reasons, elderly drivers should have an annual vision exam. They should also avoid driving in dark, twilight or early morning conditions, and consider using daytime running lights, particularly on overcast days or shaded roads. Regularly examining the car’s headlights to remove any dirt and replacing bulbs when needed can also enhance visibility.
  2. Physical changes. Researchers have found that head mobility is particularly important in accident avoidance. Drivers with arthritis or osteoporosis might lose some of this ability. Flexibility, speed and strength also play a role in safety—a driver must be quick, strong and flexible enough to use avoidance maneuvers where appropriate.

    Staying fit with regular exercise can help older drivers maintain the physical ability to drive. A driver safety course, such as those offered by AARP, can teach older drivers about normal age-related physical changes and help them adjust their driving styles to them.
  3. Medications. Many medications can negatively affect reaction time, alertness and decision-making ability. When your doctor prescribes any new medication, check whether it will impair driving function. If you take more than one medication, check with a pharmacist to ensure that they do not interfere with each other.
  4. Mental abilities. Certain conditions, such as memory loss and loss of cognitive function, can impair a driver’s ability to remember routes, make decisions and react in a crisis. A driver safety class can help older drivers re-familiarize themselves with driving rules and regulations, as well as teach them defensive driving techniques.

If you have any doubts about your own or another driver’s abilities, the American Medical Association and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration publishes a helpful brochure called “A Physician’s Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers.” Intended for doctors, it describes some of the physical and mental conditions that affect driving ability. It also discusses the role of driver rehabilitation specialists, who can help assess a driver’s ability and provide treatment, if feasible. http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/public-health/promoting-healthy-lifestyles/geriatric-health/older-driver-safety.page

Insuring Elderly Drivers

In the 1970s and 1980s, many insurers refused to issue coverage to new auto insurance applicants who were older than age 75 or 80. Now that has changed. The amount you will pay for coverage depends on age, driving record, the type of car driven, and number of miles driven annually.

Some states require insurers to discount coverage for drivers who have completed a state-certified driver safety course, while others allow voluntary discounts for these courses. For more information on insuring elderly, teen or other high-risk drivers, please call us. 

Posted 4:34 PM

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