It’s an age-old debate (no pun intended). Which drivers are safer, teens or seniors? Which age group is the most dangerous overall? We have all the facts and figures here.
Every once in a while we hear a story about a senior citizen who forgot which way was up, or thought he was stepping on the brakes but stepped on the gas, or spaced out in some way and plowed through a bus-stop full of kids or something like that. Add to that the fact that we often find seniors driving 5 mph through a 45 mph speed zone and we begin to think maybe they shouldn’t be allowed to drive.
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people on talk radio discussing additional requirements that should be imposed on seniors, or how many articles I’ve seen stating that seniors should be tested more than younger drivers. The California DMV has no special requirements for seniors (yet), although they do have a self-evaluation test seniors can take to help them figure out for themselves whether or not they can still drive safely. However, some states (14 of them) do impose additional requirements for seniors, including Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Rhode Island and South Carolina. Most of those states have a shorter renewal period for seniors than they do for younger drivers and some require more frequent eye exams.
The big question is: do seniors really have more fatal accidents than younger drivers? After studying the results of a 2005 survey found on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website, I can honestly answer, no. Seniors are more likely to die in an accident than some age groups, probably because they are physically more fragile, but they do not have more accidents. In fact, we get safer as we get older. See the study yourself at www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-30/NCSA/TSF2005/810622.pdf.
There is one exception to this claim. Although seniors as a group (age 65+) are safer drivers than any other age group, when they break down that age group, we do see a very slight increase in accidents when they get to age 75-79, then another slight increase for age 80-84, then another increase for the last category of 85+. But, keep in mind that although it could be argued that 85+ drivers have more accidents than 65-84 year-olds, they still have fewer fatal accidents than anyone under age 65, period.
During my research, I came across several articles that try to dispute this fact, with no proof to back up their claims, but the numbers don’t lie. The NHTSA is a division of the USDOT, so whom are you going to believe – the DOT or some talk-show host or writer? Again, the only exception is fatalities. Older drivers are more likely to die than some of their younger counterparts, but, of course, that is probably because they are simply not as strong, physically. In fact, here is a quote from the NHTSA on this study: “In two-vehicle fatal crashes with an older and a younger driver, the older driver’s vehicle was nearly twice as likely to be the one that was struck.” I know, there is probably someone out there right now (probably 21-24 years old) saying, “Yeah, they got struck because they were only going 5 mph in the hammer lane!”
The NHTSA study does take population into consideration, but it does not consider actual miles driven. Of course, the amount of miles you drive is a huge fact to consider. After all, a person who drives twice as many miles is probably twice as likely to be involved in an accident. This study also doesn’t mention how many of these drivers were driving trucks. Obviously, a truck driver has a higher survival rate than say someone driving a Yugo, but, of course, truckers drive a lot more miles too.
Now, how about teen drivers? We automatically assume teens are the worst drivers because they are so young and inexperienced. Although this is generally true, the worst safety record goes to the 21-24 year-old age group, with teens 16-20 coming in second. Then, as previously stated, we get better as we get older from there. I thought teens would have been the most dangerous age group, but after further consideration, it stands to reason. By the age of 21, after driving for a few years, we start getting overconfident. 21 year-olds may be better “aimers” than teens, but they haven’t yet learned the fact that there is still a lot to learn, not to mention the fact that you have to watch out for the “other guy” as well.
In regards to the actual numbers of fatalities, population not withstanding, more teens (age 16-20) died in accidents in 2005 than any other age group. Next was 21-34, followed by 65+, then 35-54, with the highest survival rate of drivers going to the 55-64 age group. So, considering the two facts stated above (that more teens die than any other age group and that 21-24 year-olds cause more fatalities), we have to give credit where it is due and let the teens and seniors off the hook as being the worst drivers. The worst drivers, according to this study for 2005, were in fact drivers age 21-24.
So, the next time you hear someone talking about how bad teens and/or seniors drive, point them toward the facts in this study. They might not like it, or agree with it, especially if they happen to be in that questionable age group (21-24 year-olds, who of course already know everything), but as the old saying goes – the truth will set you free. Or is it, the truth hurts? Or maybe it’s truth or consequences? Or, truth is in the eye of the beholder? Or, a pound of truth in the bush is better than… okay, I’ll shut up now!
Before I go, here is another statistic to consider (according to a 2003 NHTSA study) – traffic accidents are the single leading cause of death in the United States. Whatever your age, please be careful out there. And when you get the chance, go to Big City Driver for more articles and stories from a driver’s perspective.
Ken Skaggs is a 30-year veteran trucker and safety professional, who has always been a writer, and an entrepreneur at heart. Since 2000, he’s had 150+ articles published by Ten-Four Magazine, Careers in Gear, Driver Story Magazine, and dozens of websites.