With all the recent media attention on senior drivers, it's important to keep in mind that most elderly people drive cautiously -- and safely.
John Locher, director of the Senior Ombudsman Program at the California DMV, made this point in a recent interview: "As a general rule, most seniors are safe, mature, responsible drivers," he told me. "They tend to restrict themselves. A lot of seniors will tell you, 'I don't drive at night anymore.' "
Locher also points out that there is a lot of bias against senior drivers. "Look how traffic accidents are handled in the media," he says. "If little Johnny has a major car accident, there will be a single headline. But if an elderly person causes a car accident, it's in the paper for days."
He cites the example of the elderly man in Santa Monica who hit the gas instead of the brake and killed 10 people at the local Farmers Market. "It was a terrible tragedy, but that type of accident is actually quite rare," he says.
It's true that older drivers have a higher rate of fatal crashes, based on miles driven, than any other group except young drivers, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III). But this has a lot to do with the fact that an elderly person is more likely to die in a crash than a younger person is, because of general physical frailty.
In fact, according to an III report, National Highway Safety Administration statistics show that the overall percentage of older drivers involved in crashes is low, compared to other drivers: In 2006, only 8 percent of drivers who were in motor vehicle accidents were 65 to 74 years old; 6.5 percent were over 74. So the odds of an older driver being involved in a crash are relatively low. Says Locher, "If I had those kinds of odds, I'd play the lottery."
Photo by Flickr user buriednexttoyou, used under the Creative Commons licencing agreement.