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Today's read: Older drivers get safer

Seniors having fewer accidents: Older people are driving more, crashing less and their fatal accident rate has dropped by 37 percent, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The biggest drop of all came among drivers over 80. (Ashley Halsey III)

The study found that "contrary to expectations, senior drivers aren't causing more crashes than they used to. Nor are they dying more often in crashes, even though they hold onto their licenses longer. In fact, the rate of fatal crashes per licensed driver 70 and older declined from 1997 to 2008," according to the insurance institute. See the full study here.

That's great news, but older drivers and children who worry about their aging parents shouldn't let down their guard on this safety issue. Individual results may vary.

When I speak to community groups and retiree associations, I find people are extremely interested in how to maintain their mobility as they age. I can talk about carefully choosing the retirement environment, so you're in a walkable community, or about the public and private transportation services that help seniors in the D.C. region. But what they really want to talk about is how to drive safely and how to keep their licenses.

"The reasons for a lower likelihood of crashing among older drivers also are unclear," the study says. I have one suggestion, based on my conversations with older drivers: They really care about this, and while their physical skills are deteriorating, they're smart about making necessary adjustments to achieve their goals.

I give the groups some survival tips. One has to do with making left turns, just about the most dangerous thing an older driver does under normal conditions. If you're worried, don't make the left, I say. Go up one more block, and then make three right turns.

They don't laugh at that. In fact, many of them nod in the way that implies, "Don't you think we've already figured that out?"

But even smart people don't always think through every driving decision. One senior asked me when I thought Metrorail would reach his area in Prince William County. Then he gave a personal example of the need for better regional transit by saying he was going to drive from Woodbridge to an eye doctor appointment in Centreville. He would ask the eye doctor to put the drops in just one eye, so he could drive back home.

I addressed his Metro question. Only later did it occur to me what I should have said: "It's a really bad idea to drive with just one good eye."

Do you have personal concerns or suggestions about how we should deal with maintaining mobility as we age?

[3 p.m. update]
AARP Senior Vice President Elinor Ginzler issued a statement about the insurance institute report. She said it reinforces the idea that age by itself doesn't cause car crashes. She also said: "At a time of pervasive new driver distractions - like cell phones, texting and even DVD players - the self-awareness, attentiveness and judgment of most older drivers should reassure other drivers on the roadways. We all want the roads to be safe and we each have a personal responsibility to make sure that we are the safest drivers we can be."

By Robert Thomson  | June 22, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Driving, Traffic Safety  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock, senior drivers  
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Older drivers might drive slower than most and they might start signaling a turn 1 mile earlier, but I'd much rather be behind (or in front of) an older driver than a 20-something who's texting AND fiddling with the iPod while driving. At least I know that the older driver is paying attention to the road.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | June 22, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: WashingtonDame, that's a great point -- there has to be a generational difference on texting and driving.

Though I still would apply the broader category of distracted driving to all generations. A senior driver might be trying to fiddle with a map and taking eyes off the road. I gave my father a GPS, hoping he would just listen to the voice. He always took the GPS with him on trips, but he wouldn't turn it on. He'd just stop somewhere, call on his cell phone and tell whomever he was visiting the cross street and to come and get him.

Posted by: Robert Thomson | June 22, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

maybe their kids aren't letting them drive anymore despite having licenses

Posted by: seraphina21 | June 22, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

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