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How dangerous are older drivers?

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 28, 2015 at 3:52 PM

We've all heard the stereotypes about older drivers: They take up two lanes, going 15 mph under the speed limit with their left turn signal flashing constantly.

Then, along comes a story like last month's accident involving 93-year-old Dorothy Miller who while traveling on Ohio 61, went off the right side of the road, hit a large tree and overturned onto the roof before her car came to rest against a house and the old stereotypes are confirmed.

But is it fair to blame age?

Experts and data say yes and no.

The truth is older drivers are probably the second most dangerous group of drivers on the road, after the younger drivers.

"In fatal crashes we see a big spike through age 24 and 25, then it drops off dramatically until about age 75 when it spikes up again," said Lt. Jim Bryan, spokesman for the state Highway Patrol's Norwalk post.

But there is a big difference between the two groups.

In 2005, there were 930 fatal crashes in Ohio. Of those, 139 drivers killed were 65 or older, compared to 220 drivers 25 and under. Nationally, those figures were about 6,000 and about 14,000, respectively, out of about 59,000.

Nationally, drivers under 24 years old account for about 13 percent of licensed drivers, but are involved in 24 percent of all fatal accidents. Drivers 65 and older accounted for 14 percent of licensed drivers and are involved in 10 percent of all fatal accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

However, the crash statistics really jump for drivers once they pass the 70-year marker. According to a 2002 study conducted by researchers from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, drivers 85-years or older were involved in almost three times more fatal crashes than all drivers ages 55-74.

Insurance companies, whose rates are often dictated by general crash statistics, do see rate increases when drivers turn 70, said Perry Dryden, an agent for Battles Insurance.

While the problems with younger drivers tend to be distractions by friend or phone and a lack of experience, older drivers struggle with medical conditions, declining eye site and slowing reflexes. However, Dryden was quick to point out, what they have lost in physical skills, seniors tend to make up in experience.

In fact, John Flickinger of Flickinger's Insurance, said if both driving records were equal, he would rather take an older driver than a younger one.

"I'll take the 80, 81-year-old all day long," he said.

And there will soon be many more of them. In 2004, there were almost 200 million licensed drivers total about 27 million 65 and older, according to NHTSA.

Bryan said that figure will jump to 40 million by the year 2020.

Flickinger does not doubt the numbers will increase because the "baby boomer" generation is getting older, but at the same time, taking better care of their health.

"I think it's encouraging, I like it," Flickinger said. "I don't want to get to 75 and 80 and have no options."

Bryan said it is not fair to categorize or stereotype a group of drivers because of their age. The key is for all drivers to recognize what their limitations are. For example, older drivers should avoid the road if they do not think they can see as well at night.

Older drivers have not been a big problem in Huron County. The last fatal accident involving a senior driver was in 2005, when a 67-year-old driver was killed in a crash on Ohio 18.

In fact, of the 908 crashes the Norwalk post of the state Highway Patrol investigated in 2006, less than 10 percent involved drivers 65 and older.

"Regardless of whose at fault, we encourage older driver to be cautious and encourage them to be cautious of the other drivers," Bryan said.

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