Automotive Safety Advances Help The Elderly Driver

Couple Enjoying Driving

At 3D Auto Body & Collision Centers, our primary concern is a safe auto body repair. We deal with drivers of all ages, and all walks of life.

One segment of drivers that are sometimes overlooked is the elderly driver, yet the probability of a crash involving elderly drivers is far more likely for every mile they drive than middle-age drivers.

The good news is that over the last two decades, the probability of an elder driver car crash has markedly improved during the past two decades. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, this improvement in statistics can be attributed to two developments that lower the fatality rate among drivers age 75 and older. First of all, they are involved in fewer crashes per mile traveled, and second, they are surviving side impacts more often than prior generations.

IIHS studies dating back to the mid-1990s through today have demonstrated that older drivers have enjoyed bigger declines in fatal crash rates per licensed driver and per vehicle mile traveled than middle-age drivers.

What then, are the contributing factors to the decline in crash rates among the elderly?

IIHS researchers believe the decline is based on two factors, technology and biology. Cars built today are significantly safer, more structurally sound, and carry more accident avoidance technology, and two; older adults are generally healthier and less fragile than those of prior generations.

Comparing data sets from federal databases of fatal and police-reported crashes with data pulled from vehicle miles traveled, IIHS researchers overlaid fatality rates per vehicle miles traveled for drivers age 75 and older with the same data from  middle-age drivers ages 35-54 to extrapolate how changes in crash involvement (crash risk) and older driver survivability (death risk) contributed to changes in fatality rates from 1995-1998 to 2005-2008.

The results showed that drivers 75 and older experienced large r declines in crash risk and modest declines in death risk from 1995-98 to 2005-08 versus drivers who are 35-54. Specifically among drivers ages 75-79, crash risk declined 22 percent and death risk fell 11 percent relative to middle-age drivers. Drivers who are 80 and older, crash risk dropped 31 percent and death risk fell 12 percent compared to the same sampling of middle-age drivers.

Drops in crash risk accounted for  between 68 to 74 percent of the relative decline in fatalities per vehicle mile traveled among drivers 75- 80 and older compared with middle-age drivers.

What Factors Contribute the MOST to the Decline?

Of the many factors may have contributed to the drop in crash, one is that older adults are logging more miles than ever before. Average annual vehicle miles traveled per driver rose 60 percent for drivers 75-79 and 51 percent for drivers age 80 and older from 1995-06 to 2008.

This evidence also suggests that the percentage of low-mileage drivers may have declined during the period.  Elderly, low-mileage drivers tend to have higher crash rates per vehicle mile traveled, because they tend to drive a larger proportion of miles on local roads with more opportunities for driver error, or because they have physical or cognitive impairments that have led them to limit their driving.

Side Crash Improvements

In the IIHS study, declines in death risk among drivers age 75 and older, compared to middle-age drivers, were highest in side crashes than in front crashes (18 percent versus 5 percent).

In the last decade, the side impact crash rating has seen the most improvement in new vehicle safety and design. Advances in side impact protection are helping older drivers walk away from crashes that might have killed their parents or grandparents.

Airbags designed to deploy in side crashes and certain offset frontal ones have been standard on the majority of new vehicles since the 2008 model year. There is evidence that side airbags are more effective in preventing fatalities among front-seat occupants ages 70-96 than among those ages 13-49, while front airbags have equally saved the lives of both age groups.

Older drivers also appear to be benefiting from vehicle designs that minimize the harm larger, heavier vehicles can inflict on smaller, lighter ones in crashes.

Safer vehicles are helping to even out the risk factors for senior drivers, however,  older adults’ physical fragility is still a big threat when it comes to surviving crashes. Especially for drivers 75 and older, physical vulnerability continues to be the leading contributor to older drivers’ fatality rates.

Fragility accounted for 77 percent of the elevated fatality rates for drivers’ aged 75-79 and 68 percent for drivers 80 and older when compared to middle-age drivers during 2005-08.

Here at 3D Auto Body & Collision Centers, we see the results of hundreds of car crashes every day in our Body shops. When it comes time to help your aging parent purchase a new or used vehicle, please keep in mind how much the vehicle and the safety features it comes equipped with can help protect your loved one. At the end of the day, Safety is our primary concern.