Expect more older drivers on the road

Crawford Frazer
It's no secret that Americans live longer today than at any point in our country's history. What might come as a surprise, though, is just how rapidly our population is aging.
According to a 2007 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, about 57 million U.S. drivers will be at least 65 years old by 2030. According to statistics presented at the National Transportation Safety Board's 2010 Safety, Mobility and Aging Drivers Symposium, roughly 20 percent (one in five) drivers on the road in 2025 will be older than 65. These statistics are raising safety concerns.

Concerns for older drivers Overall, the National Transportation Safety Board notes, older drivers are safety-oriented. They wear seat belts, avoid driving in bad weather conditions and drive fewer miles than younger drivers. Yet they are more likely to die or suffer injuries in a traffic accident, according to the NTSB and the GAO. Why is this? Unfortunately, the natural aging process often leads to a decline in the following areas:
  • Vision. This can impede a driver's ability to see lane lines, traffic signals and other cars.
  • Cognitive function. Understanding what you see is just as important, and older drivers may not comprehend or react to driving conditions quickly enough.
  • Physical ability. Older drivers may not be able to control their vehicles as well as is necessary in some situations.
For many people over 65, a car is simply a necessary part of life. They need to get to work or the grocery store, and public transportation may not be a viable option for older drivers who live in rural areas. If you fall into this category, what does this mean? Well, despite the daunting nature of some of these statistics, the roads are not necessarily less safe for older drivers.
Building blocks for safer roads The GAO has done more than simply assess the state of older drivers. Its study includes recommendations from the Federal Highway Administration to improve road conditions for the fast-growing segment of drivers over 65. These recommendations include:
  • Putting larger letters on road signs, which can help offset a decline in eyesight.
  • Placing street name signs well ahead of intersections to help drivers prepare mentally.
  • Improving intersection layouts so that drivers can more easily navigate roadways.
Although not every state has carried out such improvements, the GAO reports that nearly half of the states have embraced at least half of the Federal Highway Administration's recommendations.
Make yourself safer
As you get older, you may find that your auto insurance provider takes a negative view of aging. But you can help turn around that perception.
In Colorado, for example, drivers age 50 and older can take the AARP Driver Safety Online Course to get updated on driving laws and safety practices. And if you're 55 or older, the state will give an auto insurance discount for completing the course. But seniors in Colorado aren't the only ones; 36 states (and the District of Columbia) now require insurance discounts for drivers 55 and over who complete a state-approved driver safety course in a classroom. Nineteen states offer discounts for older drivers who complete an online course.

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