By Stephen Markley on December 18, 2008
Drivers over 70 years of age have bucked conventional wisdom in recent years by lowering the number of fatal crashes they were involved in. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the years 1997-2006 saw a 21% decline in fatal accidents for that age group, completely reversing what had been a steady upward trend.
This happened despite the fact that the number of elderly people in the nation is growing — by 10% in the same time period. Their decline in fatal crashes outpaced all their younger counterparts, despite adding 2 million more licensed drivers to their ranks and vastly increasing the number of miles traveled.
IIHS has long been suspecting the exact opposite thing to occur: The increasing accidents and fatalities caused by elderly drivers in the past necessitated laws to monitor their impairments as they aged.
A few explanations have been offered, including safer cars keeping more would-be fatalities alive and elderly people staying in better shape.
IIHS is also exploring the possibility that the elderly are simply self-limiting their driving. One ongoing study suggests that once a driver reaches 80, he or she becomes much more likely to stay off the roads at night; avoid interstates, ice and snow; and travel fewer times and shorter distances.