Safe driving

Myths regarding seniors being unsafe drivers may have been busted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) February report.

According to the report, today’s senior drivers are less likely to be involved in car crashes than previous generations.

Russ Rader, spokesman for the institute, said the newest study should bring some relief to concerned drivers.

“The institute has been following the trends in older driver crashes and the latest study should ease fears that the aging baby boomers are a safety threat on the road,” he said.

The report states that fatal crash rates among drivers 70 and older dropped 42 percent between 1997 and 2012.

“The fatal crash rates are falling for all ages of drivers, but our study found that they fall faster for the oldest drivers during 1997 through 2012,” Rader said. “So if you look at fatal crashes per licensed driver, the crash rate fell 42 percent for 70 and older, but fell 30 percent for middle-aged drivers. (Rates) are improving across the board.”

Overall traffic-related fatalities, including drivers, passengers, motorcyclists and pedestrians, decreased by 31 percent.

“(Seniors) don’t drive drunk, the don’t text and they don’t speed,” Rader said. “They’re less of a risk to other drivers than younger drivers.”

Local seniors are of the mind that they are safer drivers than most.

“You have to be with all the idiots out there,” said Sara Armor, 87, of Marietta.

Armor said just because she’s older doesn’t mean she’s not safe, adding that when you become older you’re “more cautious and more alert” than many others.

She also believes that young drivers texting while getting behind the wheel is a big problem.

“There ought to be a way they can stop it,” she said, adding that seniors needed to “be a little more cautious” than usual while driving.

Anna Koon, a Marietta senior citizen, said she thinks seniors are safer because of the cost of being reckless.

“I think we’re safer because we’re afraid of losing our license,” she said. “When you get older, you’re afraid of losing it. I live in the country and I don’t know what I’d do (if I didn’t have my driver’s license).”

Koon added that seniors tend to be more aware of what’s around them.

“We’re focused on what we’re doing,” she said.

Likewise, Helen Whiteley, 74, of Whipple, said seniors are a little less distracted.

“I think you have to say to yourself, ‘You have to pay attention to the road,'” she said. “You have to pay attention to the road and keep your mind on the road…You can’t be distracted in the car. Things can happen so quickly that you really need to be alert.”

Some ways seniors can keep up with their driving skills is through the AARP driver’s safety class offered at the O’Neill Center, 333 Fourth St.

Connie Huntsman, executive director of the center, said many seniors participate in the course and get good information from it.

“We appreciate that seniors want to participate in the driving classes, and that they’re looking for ways to increase their awareness and make improvements in their defensive driving skills,” she said, adding that those who participate can get a decrease on their insurance costs.

The next driving class will be held at the O’Neill Center at 11:30 a.m. April 23. The cost is $15 per member and $20 for non-members.

Some challenges can face senior drivers, such as vision and hearing problems and slower reflexes.

AAA says vision is especially important for senior drivers, who need to rely on visual cues to prevent accidents. Vision gradually gets worse over time, and changes are hard to notice, which makes it important for senior drivers to have annual vision tests.

Senior drivers can also face slower reaction times, which arises from difficulty in integrating information from several sources at once. AAA says a driver will make 20 major decisions while driving, per mile of road, and often has half-a-second to react so as to avoid an accident. AAA says part of keeping reaction times high is taking care of the body and mind, which will reduce crashes.

Rader said that though seniors are more likely to be injured because they are more fragile, they are still keeping in good shape, which helps contribute to a decrease in crashes.

“What we see is that things are improving for older drivers,” Rader said. “They keep their licenses longer, they’re in better shape than they used to be, and older drivers tend to self regulate: they notice (impediments) and cut back on driving.”

Rader said the myth that “older drivers are a menace” on the road doesn’t hold much weight in light of the new findings and that cars being safer may also impact the numbers.

Whipple resident Casey Roberts, 22, said she thinks middle-aged drivers are the safest on the roads.

“I think it’s the early middle-aged people because they’ve been driving and they have pretty decent eyesight,” she said. “They know the roads and know what they’re supposed to be doing. I think the worst are the young drivers with the cell phones in their hands.”

Conversely, McConnelsville resident Pat Duff, 55, said she thinks the safest drivers vary.

“I think maybe some of the senior citizens drive better than younger ones because they have more experience,” she said, adding, “Maybe some young ones drive better because they can see better than senior citizens.”

Armor said she is proud to be an older driver.

“Life is what you make it,” she said. “If you’re going to sit down and twiddle your thumbs because you’re 50, forget it…Old age is what you make it; there’s not a guideline for old age.”

Huntsman said the study confirms something many probably already knew.

“I think the study shows what we already know about seniors: they’re more conscientious and understand the repercussions that happen as a result of their driving actions,” she said.