There's some good news for older drivers in a fresh report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which has found that, compared to past years, fewer older drivers died in crashes and fewer were involved in fatal collisions between 1997 and 2006.
Even as the population of people 70 and older rose 10 percent, crash fatalities among drivers 70 and older fell 21 percent during the survey period, reversing a previous upward trend.
The study doesn't pinpoint reasons for the fatality declines, but a separate Institute study suggests that older adults increasingly self-limit their driving as they age, a finding in line with a Miller-McCune magazine story from last summer, "Old Without Wheels," which examined the transportation difficulties encountered by America's aging population. As the story noted, the National Institute on Aging reports that about 600,000 people who are 70 or older stop driving each year, which can leave them cut off from crucial goods, services and social functions.
"The findings are a welcome surprise," Anne McCartt, institute senior vice president for research and an author of the new studies, was quoted in a release announcing the findings. "No matter how we looked at the fatal crash data for this age group - whether by miles driven, licensed drivers, or population - the fatal crash involvement rates for drivers 70 and older declined, and did so at a faster pace than the rates for drivers 35-54 years old."
The study found that fatal crash rates fell among older drivers for most types of crashes, and the decline was steep for intersection accidents.
"The large drop in intersection crashes is especially important because Institute and other studies have shown that older drivers are overrepresented in multiple-vehicle crashes at intersections," McCartt said. "The data don't allow us to point to any one reason why older drivers' fatal crash experience has improved. Some drivers may have benefited from newer and safer vehicles, and older people generally are more fit than in years past, with better access to health care."
In the ongoing Institute study examining how older adults reign in their driving as their health, mobility, vision and memory declines, researchers recruited drivers 65 and older in three states. In the first of several interviews, nearly all of these study subjects said that driving themselves is their primary mode of travel. But as the study participants reported impairments to their mobility, the oldest drivers were more likely to restrict their own driving; the restrictions included avoiding night driving, making fewer trips, traveling shorter distances and avoiding interstates and driving in ice or snow.