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Older Drivers are the Safest

18 January 2010

Drivers over 70 are no more likely to cause crashes than any other driver, and are considerably safer than younger drivers, according to a report published today by the RoadSafe member IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists).

Older people rely heavily on their cars, and the ability to drive gives many older people better mobility and access to more activities. Men in their seventies make more trips as car drivers than men in their late teens and 20s.

The full report is now available here its shows that thirty years ago, only one in three men and one in 20 women aged over 70 held a driving licence; today, three in four men and one in three women are licensed to drive. In the next twenty years, the number of male drivers over 70 will double, and that of female drivers will treble. It illustrates that older drivers are not unsafe; they are safer than most other age groups.

This report shows that older drivers are safer than young drivers. Eight per cent of drivers are over 70, yet they are involved in around four per cent of injury crashes. In contrast, the 15 per cent of drivers who are in their teens and twenties are involved in 34 per cent of injury crashes.However, age-related decline in mental and physical abilities, coupled with age-related frailty, can make older drivers more likely to be involved in a crash – and more vulnerable to serious injuries. This analysis can find no particular age at which an older driver’s functioning and skills suddenly deteriorate to the point at which driving becomes too difficult or unsafe.

Three key influences on older driver safety; - The study has identified three significant factors that influence the safety of older drivers, for better or for worse:

Self regulation – Older drivers tend to adapt their driving patterns, either through lifestyle changes, or by reducing or avoiding driving in situations in which they are uncomfortable. Compared with drivers in their 50s, older drivers have a smaller proportion of serious crashes in peak traffic periods, in the dark, when it is wet, and on motorways.

Safer driving style – Many drivers harness their experience to develop a more defensive and cautious attitude to their driving as they grow older because they are aware that their skills and driving abilities may not be as good as they once were. Older drivers have a smaller proportion of crashes on bends and while overtaking than drivers in their 50s. At junctions on 20/30mph roads, their safety performance is about the same as that of drivers in their 50s. However, on higher speed roads it is much worse.

Driving errors – Despite restricting their driving and adopting a safer driving style, older drivers are more prone to making driving errors that can lead to a crash. This is particularly evident at junctions on 60mph and 70mph roads – and in single-vehicle collisions when no other vehicle is involved

RoadSafe will be working with IAM to widen the debate and recommend that Government develop a sound strategy for supporting older road users to ensure their mobility without compromising safety.

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