Asking an older driver to give up his/her car keys because they may be “too old” is a question few people are prepared to tackle. We’re talking King Lear drama, and everyone from families to lawmakers to the National Transportation Safety Board (see below) is grappling with this issue. Do we have any readers on either side of this situation (i.e. concerned for the safety of an older driver or concerned your kids are conspiring to take your keys)? Please tells us about it in the comments section below.
Driving is synonymous with freedom in our culture. For many older adults it’s not just a cultural symbol – it may mean the difference between independent living or institutional care.
Within 15 years one-in-four drivers will be over age 65, and there’s growing concern among transportation officials that too many older drivers are forced to choose between safety and getting around. In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board just wrapped-up a two-day summit called “Safety, Mobility and Aging Drivers,” featuring academic and medical researchers, industry leaders, law enforcement officials, safety experts and advocacy groups like AARP.
Certainly, driving demands physical skills that eventually deterioriate with age. But a closer look at the statistics reveals that automobile accidents are dangerous to all age groups, but are a vastly bigger problem for younger drivers than older. Consider:
- 30,000-40,000 people are killed driving every year, which would be a shocking number if we weren’t inured to it.
- Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for anyone under age 34 and account for one-third of all deaths for those 15-24 years old (if that doesn’t shock you, consider that an additional 400,000 teens ages 16-20 are seriously injured in car accidents every year).
- Motor vehicle deaths are the number one cause of accidental (i.e. preventable) death for every age group, accept those age 75-84, when falls slightly edge out cars.
- Up until the past couple years, teens have had the highest rate of fatal car accidents. But as our aging population has grown, drivers over age 85 now claim the highest fatality rate, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Older adults may make up the highest fatality rate, but that rate actually accounts for less than one percent of deaths for those age 65 or older. Compare that to a whopping 33 percent of deaths for teenagers.
The other good news is that the N.T.S.B. summit on aging and driving highlighted advances in highway design, vehicle design, state programs and policies that can help make it safer for all drivers — not just older adults — to drive safely.
As we often point out at ChangingAging, advances and ideas that improve the lives of older adults also end up benefiting people of all ages.