Concerned about an oncoming wave of fragile older drivers, the federal government is working to beef up its safety programs aimed at seniors behind the wheel.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drivers 65 and older are more likely to die or suffer serious injuries, even in low-severity crashes, than younger drivers.
It prompted the agency, which is part of the Department of Transportation, to announce a new, five-year comprehensive safety plan this week. The plan seeks to improve the data it collects on crashes and injuries sustained in them, explore new research on technology that could help drivers avoid collisions, and improve the system for identifying dangerous drivers.
The agency’s administrator, David Strickland, emphasized that the plan was not about labeling an age group of drivers. Older drivers are “some of the safest on our roads,” he said.
At the same time, existing data show that an 85-year-old driver is 1.77 times more likely to get a moderate or more-severe injury in a crash, when compared with drivers between 35 and 54. If the 85-year-old was a front-seat passenger, the older person is five times more likely to get injured.
“Although older people of today are more mobile than past generations, they are still at a disadvantage compared to younger people when it comes to their ability to tolerate injury,” according to the agency’s recent plan. “Aging results in increased fragility and frailty.”
Despite a decline in overall traffic fatalities in recent years, the fatality rate for senior drivers increased 3 percent in 2012, with a total of 5,560 deaths nationwide. In addition, 2012 saw 214,000 older drivers injured, a 16 percent spike from the year before.
Of all Americans, 13.7 percent were over 65 in 2012; they represented 16.6 percent of all fatalities, according to the traffic safety administration.