Hit or myth: Surprising stats about older drivers - Your West Valley News: Columns

Hit or myth: Surprising stats about older drivers

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Valerie Vinyard, AAA Arizona

Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2013 11:50 am

It seems that everyone has heard a story about an older driver who’s slowly tooling down the highway with his left turn signal on for miles. Yet, statistics show that senior motorists often are the safest drivers on the road.

They’re omnipresent, too. By 2030, an estimated one out of five drivers in the United States will be older than 65. With May being Older Americans Month, it’s time to dispel some myths about older drivers.

Though the natural changes that occur with age can adversely impact on one’s driving ability, decades of road experience makes older drivers’ statistically one of the safest groups. It’s important that seniors learn how to combat these changes, whether it’s taking a driver safety class, trying out a driver safety course online or buying a DVD for tips and information.

Here are three myths and facts about older drivers:

1. MYTH: The fewer older drivers, the safer the roadways

FACT: While there’s no such thing as the perfect driver, senior drivers tend to be safer drivers. In fact, ages 64 to 69 are statistically the safest drivers on the road, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. With their experience, seniors are less likely to drive distracted or impaired; tend to drive when conditions are safest; and don’t take as many risks, such as not driving at night.

2. MYTH: Older drivers are resistant to changes in driving laws.

FACT: Though such laws as seat-belt use weren’t enacted for decades after many older drivers received their licenses, seniors are the most likely to buckle up – and therefore model safe driving habits to their passengers. In fact, 77 percent of older motor vehicle occupants (drivers and passengers) involved in fatal crashes were wearing seat belts at the time of the crash, compared to 63 percent for adult occupants (18 to 64 years of age).

3. MYTH: Aging makes most older adults high-risk drivers.

FACT: While specific abilities needed to drive safely, such as vision, memory, strength, reaction time and flexibility, decline as we age, the rate of change varies greatly. Many older drivers do not differ significantly from middle-age drivers in their driving skills. However, it’s important that senior drivers recognize changes as they age and take advantage of resources to help combat them.

So, while many misconceptions prevail about older drivers, it’s important that all motorists remain educated on the strengths and weaknesses of drivers of any age.

To help combat this, AAA Arizona recently started offering Safe Driving for Mature Drivers, a four-hour workshop in Phoenix that could qualify participants for a discount on auto insurance premiums. The course will help fine-tune driving skills; update knowledge of the rules of the road; and reduce chances of a traffic crash.

Also, AAASeniors.com is a free one-stop online source that offers advice about how aging affects one’s ability to drive safely.

Valerie Vinyard is a public affairs specialist for AAA Arizona. Contact her at vvinyard@arizona.aaa.com or at 520-258-0518.

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