(Corrects name of Rand Institute in 2nd paragraph to Rand Institute for Civil Justice)
By Ishani Ganguli
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Young drivers between 15 and 24 years old are three times as likely to cause car accidents as senior citizens, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday, noting that the findings contradict policies that make it harder for older drivers to renew their licenses.
People over the age of 65 make up 15 percent of drivers but were responsible for only 7 percent of the 330,000 fatal two-car crashes in the past 25 years, researchers at the Rand Institute for Civil Justice found.
Drivers up to age 24 represented 13 percent of drivers, but caused 43 percent of the accidents across the United States, they said. Senior drivers were only 16 percent more likely to cause an accident than drivers between the ages of 25 and 64.
“(There is) pretty widespread public concern about the safety of older drivers,” said David Loughran, an economist at RAND who worked on the study.
“Over the past 20 years, there been a strong trend to adopt more stringent licensing policies,” he added. “The fact that older drivers are not that much riskier suggests that these policies are certainly questionable.”
The deterioration in vision and slower reflexes that come with age can hamper the ability to drive, while senior citizens are also more vulnerable to serious injury and nearly seven times more likely than other adult drivers to be killed if they do have an accident, the study found.
But the findings suggested that senior citizens are choosing to drive less frequently or to stop altogether. Those who still get behind the wheel often play it safe -- driving in daylight and avoiding dangerous conditions, Loughran said.
Illinois and New Hampshire require road tests for older drivers, while other states require them to take vision tests or renew their licenses in person.
“On the one hand, requiring older drivers to take road tests, for example, would certainly identify some older drivers whose driving abilities have deteriorated unacceptably,” the researchers wrote.
“But our results suggest that there are relatively few older drivers who need to be legally prohibited from driving, so these drivers pose a relatively small risk to traffic safety overall.”
Efforts to reduce accidents would be better focused on younger drivers, who drive more frequently and are riskier when they do so, Loughran said.