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Who's The Safest Driver on the Road?

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Don’t look to seniors and teens if you are searching for safe drivers.  Middle aged drivers have far fewer accidents than either group.

A quick glance at their accident rates, provided by Consumer Reports, is alarming.  Teen drivers between the ages of 16 and 17 are nine times more likely to have accidents than middle aged drivers.  Drivers in their 80s are five and a half times more likely to have accidents than middle aged drivers.

Experts are searching for ways to protect both groups and other drivers near them on the road.  Many of the reasons why seniors and teens have accidents are well known.  Car manufacturers and local, state and federal transportation authorities are working hard on ways to prevent those accidents.

Seniors die more often in accidents than teenagers because they are not as physically fit.  Experts call the elderly “fragile” drivers.  Their numbers are increasing rapidly.  In the U.S., 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day.  That rate will continue for the next 18 years, according to Consumer Reports.  By 2030, one in every 5 drivers will be older than 65.

The good news is that some seniors remain good drivers as they age.  Many also limit their driving.  Some give up driving at night or choose roads with slower traffic than freeways and other heavily traveled thoroughfares.  They drive shorter distances and limit the number of their trips.

Unfortunately, some seniors keep driving when they shouldn’t.  They don’t see well even with glasses. They have cognitive difficulties.  They misjudge the speed of oncoming cars.  They are less likely to see cars as they turn left in front of oncoming traffic.  And they miscalculate distances as they merge onto freeways or pass other cars.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says drivers between 70 and 79 remain aware of approaching traffic but they can misjudge the amount of time they need to turn left in front of on-coming cars and trucks or merge onto freeways.  Some drivers 80 or older entirely fail to see approaching cars.

“Studies of senior –involved crashes have found that failure to yield right of way is the most common error among seniors,” according to the Institute.  It says older drivers are more of a danger to themselves and their passengers than younger drivers.

Teens have different issues that can make them unsafe drivers.  They have little experience behind the wheel.  Their brains aren’t completely mature, leaving some prone to risky behavior.  As a group, they exhibit poor judgment.  And many don’t buckle up.

Some states have adopted graduated licensing laws as a result.  Statistics show they cut down on teen fatalities.  Under graduating licensing laws, a teen driver is restricted for a period before full driving privileges are granted.  They may be required to drive with an adult.  They may not be allowed to drive at night.  The number of passengers in the car can be limited.

Some car manufacturers are building cars that allow parents to set limits on a teen’s driving.  For example, a parent can program the car so it won’t go over a certain speed, limit the volume on the radio and prevent it from turning on until seat belts are fastened.

Car makers are also using technology to help senior drivers.  Among other innovations, they’re building in rear back up cameras, blind spot detection systems, and cross traffic alerts along with lane departure systems that can make minor adjustments to the steering wheel.  Some are also making structural changes in cars to protect seniors’ fragile bones in a crash.

Some states require elderly drivers to renew their driver’s license in person when the reach a certain age.  Some also require vision tests for elderly drivers to make certain they can see well enough to drive.

The Federal Highway Administration plans to make traffic signs larger and more reflective to increase safety for elderly drivers.  It also plans to increase the distance between signs and exits to give seniors more time to react.

But there is a problem protecting senior mobility when the elderly become too old to drive.  When seniors have to give up their car keys, there are few mass transit systems in America’s rural and suburban areas where most of them currently live.  And solutions are few and far between.

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