Why Are Older Drivers More Likely to Die in Car Accidents?
In Newsletter #024, I pointed out that drivers over 65 accounted for 25% of all accident fatalities. This is considerably higher than their proportion of the population. I have continued to explore the data and the results are surprising.
Let us first look at the number of accidents by age group. We need to standardize for the number of people in an age group and the miles that they travel. The American Automobile Association uses a measure of accidents per million miles travelled.
See "NUMBERS" section for charts
Accident rates by Age
Why then are the fatalities and injuries so much higher? The AAA offers an insight into this. They looked at their data base of police reports, at who was injured and killed in all these accidents.
Injuries in Car Accidents by Driver, Passenger and By Age
Of course one of the reasons the accident rates stay low is the older drivers do self- regulate. Both strategically and tactically they adjust their driving. They do this to compensate for their changing body and mind. It is sad given this data that the “enemy within” causes many older drivers to give up (Newsletter #024). This data would suggest that they probably give up driving too soon. Certainly the data on the ageing of the mind and body shows that we can drive much longer than we may think. Certainly we can drive longer than many younger people may think. Their stereotypes are out of date. In 2020 there were 240 individuals over the age of 100 that still held a valid UK driving licence.
Self Explaining and Forgiving Roads
Governments around the world are adjusting the roads to make drivers feel safe. If they feel safer they are more likely to stay mobile. There is a lot of evidence to show that traffic accidents are related to the number of miles travelled. Self-regulation means less mileage and less mileage means less expertise. As a result, older people feel even less confident driving and drive less. It is a vicious circle. Making the road system safer for older driving consumers is therefore becoming a major policy issue.
Many modifications to roads are designed to minimize the “surprise” in a driving situation. Older road users have more experiences to draw on. They need to relate their “scripts” to the road setting they perceive. This poses problems for the roll out of modern concepts like “shared space”. These new models remove curbs and the distinctions between pavement and road. They will be most confusing to the older driver.
A self-explaining road has far better signposting than in most countries today. This helps the older driver maintain their spatial awareness. Speed limits and curves in the road are better signposted for the same reason. The idea is to give more warning than is common today. To help drivers, other senses apart from sight are used. There is more use of “rumble strips” at key points in the road. Signs and rumble strips enforce lane separation on corners and curves. Motorway slip roads are being extended. This eases the problem of assessing relative speed when entering and leaving.
The structure of intersections is being rethought. Obtuse intersections cause increased accidents. Older people can cope far better with right angled junctions. Obstructing trees and other vegetation at intersections and signposts are being removed. The same is true for the exit and entry angles on roundabouts or rotaries. Stopping lines are advanced to allow for the slower reaction speed of older drivers. It also helps with their slowness at accelerating. There more traffic lights at intersections.
The forgiving roads are roads designed to minimize the injuries in any accident. Older people are more fragile and much more prone to injury if involved in an accident. The number of crash barriers is increasing. They are made to collapse at lower impacts providing more “cushion”. Bollards and posts are being replaced with containers full of liquids. To reduce the impact of any accident obstructions on bends and junctions are being removed .
Statistics and analysis from Tefft, B.C. (2017). Rates of Motor Vehicle Crashes, Injuries and Deaths in Relation to Driver Age, United States, 2014-2015 (Research Brief). Washington, D.C.: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.