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More and safer older drivers

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Monday, May 12, 2014
Posted: 5 pm ET

The AAA Foundation points out unintended consequences that sometimes result from people working past the age that would have signaled retirement a few years ago.

About 25 percent of men and 18 percent of women are still on the job past age 65, according to AAA's research. That means twice as many work-related commutes for drivers 65 and older compared with 20 years ago, the association concludes.© Tyler Olson/

AAA also points out that according to its research, 90 percent of older drivers take prescription drugs and two-thirds of them are taking more than one medication, a situation that can be risky. The organization offers some good advice about managing driving and prescription drug use:

  • If it is OK with your doctor, take the medication at night so that side effects like drowsiness have time to wear off before you get behind the wheel.
  • Make sure the doctor knows the other drugs you take, including drugs you purchase over the counter without a prescription.
  • Don't drink and drive; the combination can exacerbate any side effects.

Although worth thinking about, this picture of older drivers doesn't tell the whole story. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released a report recently based on insurers' experiences and those of the Federal Highway Administration and concluded that while there are more older drivers, they are involved in significantly fewer fatal accidents than they used to be.

Overall, the Insurance Institute reported that 4,079 people ages 70 and older died in motor vehicle crashes in 2012. That is down 31 percent compared with 1997, the year in which automotive deaths peaked among older drivers. The number declined despite the fact that in 2012, there were 19 percent more older drivers than there were in 1997. Since 1975, the fatality rate per capita among older drivers has fallen 46 percent to a record low.

We may be getting older, but it looks like we're getting better

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says there are some fairly simple things that communities can do to further reduce accidents among older drivers:

  • Make the road signs and signals easier to see. One study suggests that making signs more visible and adding a dedicated left-turn lane reduced crashes among drivers 65 and older 13 percent more than the same changes did among drivers 25 to 64.
  • Modify roundabouts. In general, roundabouts are safer than busy conventional intersections, but older drivers say they don't like them and often avoid them, the institute reports. It suggests adding more directional signs and advance warning signals to roundabouts to help older drivers navigate them.

Studies show that the most common error among older drivers is failure to yield the right of way, the institute says. Drivers 70 to 79 were likely to misjudge how fast the other vehicle was moving; drivers 80 and older just didn't see the other vehicle.

The decision to give up their keys is one that is very hard for older drivers to make. But give some thought in your retirement planning to how you'll get around if you can no longer drive. Eventually, the time may come when you can no longer get behind the wheel.

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