Many members of the over-65 generation limit their own driving as they recognize some deterioration in their capabilities. Typical self-limiting includes avoiding crowded thoroughfares and taking alternate routes, though this makes trips longer. Seniors also try to find intersections with protected left turns. Many decide to travel only a handful of close-to-home, highly familiar routes — and nowhere else — behind the wheel.
Other elderly drivers decide to give up driving altogether in the interests of their own and others’ safety; more than 600,000 drivers age 70 or older do just that each year, according to a 2002 study published in the American Journal of Public Health.
A surprising surge in self-limitation seems to be behind the 21-percent improvement in the number of crash deaths among drivers 70 and older in a 10-year Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study. The declines were most dramatic for drivers 80 and older. If the fatal-crash involvement rates for older drivers had mirrored the trend for younger ones in the same time period, the Institute said, nearly 7,000 additional older drivers would have been in fatal crashes.
The older a driver is, and the more physically and cognitively impaired he or she is, the more the senior tends to self-limit driving, according to Institute interviews that accompanied the broader study.
The willingness of many aging motorists to regulate themselves prevents countless accidents. In fact, seniors’ tendency to self-limit is one of the main reasons that insurance rates are generally only slightly higher for drivers 75 or older than for the generation just beneath them — and far lower than rates for teenage drivers. Another reason insurers don’t see older drivers as a particular liability menace is that they tend to injure themselves more than others in accidents.
Driving Improvement Classes
Older drivers are finding more ways to gauge their own effectiveness behind the wheel. The American Automobile Association Foundation, for instance, has an online self-rating form for drivers 55 and older. Several other organizations are making similar resources available on the Web.
More seniors also are taking it upon themselves to improve their driving by attending self-help classes. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), for example, offers a driver safety program at sites around the country and online. The 8-hour class is for drivers 50 and older. Typically, participants can take their certificate of completion and show it to their insurance company to get a discount of 5-10 percent, learn and practice your defensive driving with New York – IMPROV.
One emphasis of the classes is to urge seniors to step up to their own responsibility for driving. For instance, “We don’t talk about ‘accidents’ but rather about ‘crashes,’ because an accident just says, ‘It’s too bad it happened,'” says Stegeman, a retired schoolteacher. “A ‘crash’ is where someone didn’t see something or reacted inappropriately, and we need to get class members thinking that way.”
Another theme stresses “taking a little more time to make decisions as you drive, because that’s how our body functions as we get older,” says Nancy Stegeman, a retired nurse who teaches with her husband.