Senior drivers a hazard? Young are worst: U.S. study

NEW YORK, July 18 (Reuters Life!) - While senior drivers are often viewed as a hazard on the road, a new survey shows that young drivers are far more likely to cause accidents.

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A study released on Wednesday by non-profit research institute Rand Corporation found that drivers aged 65 and older were one-third as likely as drivers aged 15 to 24 to cause auto accidents.

“By far, it is the youngest drivers who pose the greatest risk to traffic safety,” researcher David Loughran, a RAND senior economist and professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School, said in a statement.

Researchers found that in 2001, people 65 and older accounted for about 15 percent of all licensed drivers in the United States but caused only about 7 percent of accidents.

By contrast, people aged 15 to 24 accounted for 13 percent of licensed drivers but caused 43 percent of all accidents.

“While driving ability declines with age for most people, those seniors who continue to drive, appear to be safer drivers than the general public might think,” said Loughran.

He said seniors appeared to make fairly sound decisions about when to reduce the amount they drive or stop driving altogether and drove much less than younger drivers, at safer times during the day, and avoided poorer road conditions.

But as senior citizens are generally in poorer health and more frail, drivers aged 65 and older are at much greater risk of serious injury or death when they do have an accident.

Senior drivers are nearly seven times more likely than younger drivers to be killed in a two-car accident.

“Seniors who drive pose a much larger risk to themselves than to others,” sad Loughran.

“As the U.S. population ages, injury rates will increase -- not because seniors cause more accidents, but because seniors are more vulnerable to injury when they get into an accident.”

He said it was projected by 2025, drivers aged 65 plus would account for 25 percent of drivers, up from 14 percent in 2001.

The study estimated accident risks by examining more than 330,000 fatal traffic accidents crashes around the United States between 1976 and 2003 among adult drivers in three age groups: 18 to 25, 26 to 64; and 65 and older.