By David Colmans
In just about 20 years, people age 65 and older are expected to be 25 percent of the driving population and suffer an equal percentage of involvement in fatal crashes.
The National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) says 30 million, or 15 percent of licensed drivers, in 2006 were 65 and older in the U.S. And in 2007, 5,932 people 65 and older were killed in traffic crashes. Put another way, 14 percent of all Americans killed on roadways were 65 or older.
Consider these additional statistics:
• In 2006 there were 30 million licensed drivers 65 and older, up 18 percent from 1996.
• In 2007, 79 percent of traffic fatalities involving older drivers occurred during the day. Of those traffic crashes, 71 percent involved another vehicle.
• In two-vehicle fatal crashes involving an older driver and a younger driver in 2007, older drivers’ vehicles were nearly twice as likely to be struck than younger drivers’ vehicles. That amounts to 59 percent versus 33 percent.
There is a growing need to help older drivers sharpen their skills as well as recognize their changing abilities and adapt their driving practices appropriately, according to the New York-based Insurance Information Institute.
An increasing number of states routinely attempt to identify, assess and regulate older drivers with diminishing abilities that cannot or will not voluntarily modify their driving habits.
Here’s what states in the South are doing regarding seniors and drivers licenses:
• Georgia: Require vision retest for renewals at all ages. Require drivers to pass tests at 64. Require doctors to report medical conditions that might impair driving skills.
• Florida: Require vision retest only for cause, such as specific number of accidents or other point infractions. Require road test for cause and require knowledge for cause. Road retesting after 80.
• Alabama: No additional requirements.
• Tennessee : No additional requirements.
• Mississippi: Road retesting for cause and knowledge for cause.
The higher death rates among older drivers is due in part in large part to frailty since older people are less likely to survive injury than younger people. Motor vehicle deaths per 100,000 population by age group in 2008 indicates the most number in the group between 16 and 29, but the next largest group of fatalities are in people 70 to 85 and older.
According to the Property Casualty Insurers of America (PCI), by 2009, 31 states and the District of Columbia mandated premium discounts for old adults. About a half dozen states mandate discounts to all drivers who take defensive driving or other driver’s education courses.
Here are a few safe driving tips for senior motorists:
• Be sure your steering wheel, mirrors and seats are properly adjusted to your size and height.
• Always wear your seatbelt and insist your passengers do the same.
• Avoid night driving and driving in bad weather whenever possible.
• Reduce car noise by keeping the radio, air conditioner and heater low.
• Drive only when you feel well-rested and when traffic is less congested.
• If highway speeds make you feel unsafe, limit yourself to local driving.
• Avoid school areas at times when schools let out.
• Use passengers as co-pilots to help navigate in traffic.
• Drive the speed limit when you can. Driving too slow is unsafe.
• Take a driving course every three years.
• Get a physical and have your eyes and hearing checked annually. Ask your doctor if any medications you take may have an effect on your ability to drive safely.
David Colmans is the executive director of the Georgia Insurance Information Service. Contact him at (770) 565-3806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.