Because of an abundance of blue skies and sunshine, low taxes, scenic deserts – and a million other reasons – southwest Arizona is a retirement destination. That means a significant portion of our population consists of seniors enjoying the laidback Grand Canyon State lifestyle.

While conventional wisdom holds that older people are some of the worst drivers, a recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study stands conventional wisdom on its head.

Seniors are safer drivers

According to IIHS researchers, drivers in their 70s are less likely to be involved in a fatal crash than drivers ages 35 to 54.

The study also points out that seniors not only have fewer fatal accidents per licensed driver, they also have fewer police-reported motor vehicle crashes per mile than middle-aged drivers.

Comparing the two age groups

IIHS compared drivers over 70 to drivers ages 35-54 in four crash categories:

  • Fatal crash involvement per 100,000 licensed drivers
  • Fatal crash involvement per vehicle mile traveled
  • Police-reported crash involvement per vehicle mile traveled
  • Number of driver deaths per 1,000 police-reported crashes

A combination of safer vehicles equipped with better crash-prevention technology and improvements in infrastructure design and roadway signage have helped to lower crash rates across all ages.

Examining the crash data

From 1997 to 2018, the fatal crash rate per licensed driver among people ages 35 to 54 had a dramatic decline of 21 percent. The fatal crash rate for drivers 70 and over dropped even more: 43 percent.

The IIHS says “virtually all those reductions occurred during the first half of the study period.” In the second decade of the study period, the fatal crash rate for older drivers stayed steady, while the rate began to increase for middle-aged drivers.

Fatal crashes per mile and police-reported crashes per mile both “rose substantially for middle-aged drivers in recent years,” the IIHS states, while declining for drivers 70 and above.

Researchers found that from 2009-17, fatalities per 1,000 police-reported crashes dropped about 15 percent for drivers ages 35-54 and about 25 percent for drivers ages 70 to 79.

Room for improvement

Though the data shows that older drivers are safer than ever, there is clearly plenty of room for improvement in not only vehicle and infrastructure designs, but in driving habits that put seniors and everyone else at risk of injuries and worse in motor vehicle crashes.