If you’re considering that headline above, it may indeed come with one caveat: Sorry, kids. As usual, and as measured by virtually every conceivable criteria, drivers as a group are just about as dangerous as they can get right after they get their licenses. That includes claims per insured vehicle. For 16-year-old drivers, the number comes in at about 80 claims per 1,000 vehicles. For the most senior drivers – those aged 85 and above – the figure is 56 per 1,000. Who would you rather have in the adjacent lane on the freeway?
So, perhaps all the talk these days in the media about car accidents and other motor vehicle dangers associated with older drivers is just a bit over-hyped, especially when compared to teen drivers.
Nonetheless, the issue probably does merit mention, if based on nothing more than the explosion of baby boomers about to turn 65, followed by legions thereafter for at least the next 20 years. Undeniably, our driving population is aging.
What does that mean? In the view of Dr. Cheryl Lambing, a California expert on such matters, not much. “Age is not a contraindication for anything,” she says. “So one cannot apply age universally.”
Still, notes Joseph Coughlin, chief of the MIT AgeLab, age does bring a few indisputable changes. Progressively slower reflexes, for example. A decreased inability to judge speed and distance. Less flexibility, which makes it harder for the driver to physically turn his or her head quickly to the side and rear for visual checks.
There is a problem, says Ann Love, senior driver ombudsman for the California Department of Motor Vehicles, and that is each person’s general inability to accurately gauge his or her own progressive impairment. In short, we don’t know when to hand over the keys.
And when we do, notes Coughlin, we are in a “mobility gap,” because most of us will live up to 10 years beyond that time. “For many,” Coughlin says, “our homes will not be just a place to age, they will also be house arrest.”