Baby boom and older drivers
Getting older doesn’t make someone a bad driver. But there are changes that may affect the driving skills of baby boomers, who are now starting to turn 65.
Balintfy: The first of America's baby boomers—people born between 1946 and 1964—are reaching their 65th birthdays in 2011. That has a lot of implications for the future of the nation’s health, and may have implications for the nation’s roads.
King: We'll see another two million or so drivers over the age of 65 coming in as it were too being an older driver.
Balintfy: But Dr. Jonathan King at the National Institutes of Health says those older drivers may not make a big impact.
King: What they do is they drive less.
Balintfy: Dr. King explains that the data on older drivers show that the total number of accidents and fatalities in older drivers is actually much smaller than in teenagers and people in their older 20s.
King: What we do see is because older drivers drive a lot less, the per-mile data or the per-trip data, you start to see an increase in accidents and unfortunately in fatalities as well that becomes most obvious for drivers who are over the age of 80 or so. At that point, you then start to see death rates that actually approach those of people who are teenagers.
Balintfy: Getting older doesn’t make someone a bad driver. But there are changes that may affect driving skills over time. Dr. King explains that older drivers, like all older adults, are more likely to have various physical issues that are preventing them from driving as well as they used to.
King: There's arthritis. There's inability to make the head turn to look in the side window. There are changes in vision, but most older drivers are fairly cognizant of those and will drive less if at night or if they know that they have visual issues.
Balintfy: But Dr. King adds that there are changes that affect drivers that they might not realize, changes in their cognition.
King: These are basically changes that are responsible for them to be able to pay attention not just to the task that they're doing, the driving task, but to the situations that occur while you're driving that you suddenly have to pay attention to and react to. Whether it's somebody coming, creeping into your lane from the street you're approaching or if it's the fact that the driver in front of you just applied their brakes while you're actually looking at the road signs to make sure you're going in the right direction.
Balintfy: Dr. King notes there is some evidence that training programs may help older drivers to drive for longer, for example a Useful Field of Vision Test.
King: And there's some indication that it will allow them, it may enable them to have fewer motor vehicle collisions, at least at-fault ones than drivers who haven't had the testing.
Balintfy: Overall, Dr. King suggests that despite the fact that there is a growing concern given the increasing number of older drivers:
King: I think we're fairly lucky. The cars themselves have been getting much safer. The accident rates have not been skyrocketing. We do have some interventions under testing that maybe fruitful.
Balintfy: Dr. King recommends a specific “Age Page” with more information for Older Drivers. Find it online at www.nia.nih.gov. This is Joe Balintfy, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.