Safety researchers expressed concern a decade ago that traffic accidents would increase as the nation's aging population swelled the number of older drivers on the road. Now, they say they've been proved wrong.
Today's drivers aged 70 and older are less likely to be involved in crashes than previous generations, and less likely to be killed or seriously injured if they do crash, according to a study released Thursday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
That's because vehicles are getting safer and seniors are generally getting healthier, the institute said.
The marked shift began taking hold in the mid-1990s and indicates that growing ranks of aging drivers as baby boomers head into their retirement years aren't making U.S. roads deadlier.
Traffic fatalities overall in the U.S. have declined to levels not seen since the late 1940s, and accident rates have come down for other drivers as well. But since 1997, older drivers have enjoyed bigger declines as measured by both fatal crash rates per driver and per vehicle miles driven than middle-age drivers, defined in the study as ages 35 to 54.
From 1997 to 2012, fatal crash rates per licensed driver fell 42 percent for older drivers and 30 percent for middle-age ones, the study found. Looking at vehicle miles traveled, fatal crash rates fell 39 percent for older drivers and 26 percent for middle-age ones from 1995 to 2008.
The greatest rate of decline was among drivers age 80 and over, nearly twice that of middle-age drivers and drivers ages 70 to 74.