Are elderly drivers getting safer? Study suggests answer is 'yes'

The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) released a new study about fatal car accidents and the age-related demographics that are involved in such wrecks. The findings were somewhat surprising in some regards -- and somewhat expected in others.

According to the IIHS study, the past two decades have seen a decline in fatal car accidents for people aged 70 or older, which runs counter to what many people have been saying about elderly drivers in recent years. Specifically, the study found that the fatal crash rate for people aged 70 or older dropped 42 percent per licensed driver from 1997 to 2012. The same metric for people aged 35 to 54 only decreased by 30 percent.

However, it was not all good news for elderly drivers. The accident rate per mile driven starts to increase for a driver at age 70, and by age 80, the rate is "markedly higher" than the rate of middle-aged drivers. In other words, while deaths in car accidents involving elderly drivers may be decreasing, the accidents themselves probably aren't.

So what causes such a dichotomous relationship between elderly driving accidents and the deaths involved in those wrecks? Some say that the increased safety protocols and equipment found in cars today help to explain the numbers. It could even be that the safety enhancements to cars are more beneficial to elderly drivers.

While these numbers are interesting, the simple fact of the matter is that as we age, it is only natural that our skills decrease. As a result, we will all eventually become "worse" drivers than we once were. Sometimes, this reduced driving ability may cause an elderly driver to make a poor or reckless mistake. Regardless of age, negligence is negligence -- and the people who are injured due to a driver's negligence could pursue civil action.

Source: USA Today, "Study: Car crash deaths fall among elderly drivers," Feb. 22, 2014

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