Car Safety for Seniors at a Crossroads

 In Car Safety Features, Car Safety Rating Systems, Seniors and cars, Vehicle Safety

Drivers 70+ are more likely to be involved in intersection-related crashes than middle-aged drivers. Data also shows seniors struggle to turn left at signalized intersections, are more likely to be struck when there is no signal, and they are 4 times more likely to die in side-impact crashes.

Risk Factors

Why? One unpleasant truth is that cognition and perception decline with age. As a group, older drivers can’t always recognize safe gaps in traffic, fail to yield when appropriate, and misjudge the speed of or fail to see other vehicles.

Another factor is that seniors tend to drive vehicles that are less safe.  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found drivers aged 70+ own older, smaller vehicles without important life-saving technologies. They often choose these vehicles over full-size SUVs and trucks because, as one senior complained, “I can’t drive a monster truck. It’s too big.”

At the same time, Baby Boomers are more active than previous generations. And that active lifestyle includes driving more. In 2021, drivers 65+ comprised 21 percent of all licensed drivers, compared to 17 percent in 2012. Older drivers also increased their annual miles driven by 65% compared to 20 years earlier, according to 2016-2017 National Household Travel Survey.

Given these trends, what can we do to keep everyone safer on the road?

New Technology Emerging

Car makers are developing an automated system that could help, left-turn assist. It would work like the forward collision warning systems in new cars. If vehicle-mounted cameras and sensors determined that a left turn would result in a crash, alarms would signal the driver to stop. If the driver didn’t brake in time, the car would automatically stop.

Older drivers may have the most to gain from such driver-assist technologies. Research by insurance companies indicates forward collision avoidance, blind spot detection, and lane departure warnings have reduced or prevented up to a fifth of crashes, 18% of injuries, and a quarter of all fatalities for older drivers.

It’s time for car makers and safety advocates to take a hard look at what would best serve these 32 million drivers. They should prioritize smaller vehicles — better equipped to withstand side collisions — with useful, but not annoying driver-assist technologies, especially for left-turn assist.

It makes economic sense as well. At the end of 2023, according to data published by the Federal Reserve, Baby Boomers held over 51% of the nation’s wealth. There is money to be made and society will be safer as a result.

(This blog appeared as an opinion piece in Ahwatukee Foothill News.)


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