For Seniors, Driving ‘Same Ol’ Vehicle Raises The Risk Of A Deadly Crash

For Seniors, Driving ‘Same Ol’ Vehicle Raises The Risk Of A Deadly Crash

“Retirement vehicles”— older, smaller, outdated cars that lack crucial safety features that can help prevent or mitigate crashes, are common among older drivers 70 and over.  But while keeping an older model may make financial sense, it increases the odds of dying in a crash. 

Those are the highlights of two new studies released on Tuesday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a non-profit financed by the insurance industry, that found that if older drivers opted for safer vehicles, nearly 100 lives could be saved every year. 

While those numbers are modest, the findings are significant, as older drivers are less likely to survive severe crashes than any other age group.

“Persuading older drivers to take another look at the vehicles they’re driving could reduce crash fatalities substantially,” Jessica Cicchino, the Insurance Institute’s vice president of research and a co-author of both studies, said in a statement. “One big challenge is that, for those on a fixed income, cost often overrides other concerns.”

Overall, drivers in their 70s and 80s are driving more and crashing less often than in past decades, but those 75 and older are still about 4 times as likely to die as middle-aged drivers when they’re involved in a side-impact crash and about 3 times as likely to die in a frontal crash, the safety group said. 

One study found that drivers in their 70s and older were significantly more likely to be driving vehicles that were at least 16 years old than drivers ages 35-54. The older drivers were also substantially less likely to be driving vehicles less than 3 years old.

In addition, as driver age increased, vehicles were less likely to be equipped with the latest safety technology, like electronic stability control (ESC) and head-protecting side airbags as standard features, according to the researchers. Vehicles without ESC were associated with 37 % higher odds of driver fatality for drivers 70 and over, while vehicles without standard head-protecting side airbags were associated with double the odds of an older driver fatality.

When choosing their current vehicle, drivers 70 and older were less likely than middle-aged drivers to have advanced safety features, like blind spot monitoring, side or curtain airbags, forward collision warning or automatic emergency braking (AEB).

Vehicle size and weight are also important factors in crash survival, as the occupants of smaller, lighter vehicles are exposed to greater forces in collisions with larger, heavier ones, the safety group said.

“All these vehicle characteristics have big impacts on crash survival rates, and older drivers are more often driving the least-safe vehicles by every parameter,” Cicchino said. “This only gets worse as their age increases, since many older adults stick with a single ‘retirement vehicle’ for the remainder of their driving years.”

In all age groups, most drivers agreed that a 10-year-old, well-maintained car with low mileage is just as safe as a new one — though drivers 70 and older were substantially more likely to report owning a vehicle with those characteristics. 

“The older drivers who participated in the survey didn’t appear to understand the value of today’s vehicle safety features,” Cicchino added. “At the same time, they perceived less need to replace their older vehicles because they don’t drive many miles per year and think of low mileage as synonymous with overall vehicle safety.”

It is a concern, as statistics indicate that crash risk per mile driven is higher for those who drive less, particularly those who travel fewer than 3,000 miles a year. And driving on local roads is riskier than highway driving, researchers said, so the tendency of older drivers to restrict their highway travel means they drive more on local roads, adding to the risk.

For more information about the recent studies, click here.