By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Younger drivers are a bigger problem

We have become obsessed with elderly drivers. Today’s example: this story in the Boston Globe about an 83-year-old woman who crashed through the front of a Natick liquor store. My guess is that it wouldn’t even have made the Globe a year ago.

To be sure, there are elderly drivers who should be off the road. But it’s long been known that younger drivers are more dangerous than older ones. That perspective has been entirely lacking from recent coverage.

In 2001, for instance, the Washington Post reported that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety had found that older drivers were involved in fewer crashes than any other age group, but that the fatality rate in those crashes was higher because the elderly drivers themselves were more likely to die of their injuries. From the Post:

The studies show that older drivers kill fewer motorists and pedestrians than any other age group and have the lowest crash rates per licensed driver….

Younger drivers aged 16 to 24 had the highest accident rate, more than double the rate for older drivers.

My 95-year-old uncle continues to drive. I know that anecdotal evidence is suspect, but I think his sense of responsibility is typical of his generation. He no longer drives at night, and he’s talked about public-transportation options for the day that he should give up his license.

More-frequent testing for older drivers is probably a good idea. But coverage has grown completely out of proportion when you consider the reality of who’s the greatest menace behind the wheel.

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30 Comments

  1. jvwalt

    I think it's a man-bites-dog thing. Young people smash their cars every day. When an 88-year-old does the same, it's news.

  2. escargogo

    The media coverage of these accidents did help convince my 82-year-old father to give up driving, a good thing given his deteriorating eyesight. But he had already cut down his time on the road to almost nothing, so he didn't have much opportunity to get in accidents.I think the relevant question is how many accidents occur in each age group in relation to how much time they spend on the road. Also, reckless younger drivers can be taught (or punished) to change their behavior, but you can't legislate away the aging process.Having said this, I support raising the driving age to 21 as a way of increasing public pressure for better public transit and for lowering the drinking age to a more sensible 18.

  3. Brigid

    The problem is that our communities are designed on the assumption that everyone drives. A senior citizen who lives in a residential area, with no stores within walking distance and no public transit options, becomes very cut off if he or she can't drive. This can lead directly to a decline in quality of life, and fear of that may lead some older people to continue driving even if it isn't safe.

  4. Mr Punch

    Well, yeah, younger drivers are dangerous. That's why we make them take a course and a test, and charge them high insurance rates. Elders who oppose age discrimination presumably think this is bad.

  5. meamoeba

    dan, that's an inaccurate and superficial statement about young drivers vs. old. first, we have restrictions on young drivers about when and who they can drive with but not on older drivers but more importantly, young drivers have a higher number of accidents but lower rate. older drivers get in the car less frequently and go fewer miles but accidents per million miles (the insurance industry standard for rates) is far higher for 65 and older than all other groups and highest among 75 and older. that is the salient stat. and elderly drivers 80 and above account for a higher fatal crash rate per 100 drivers than any group except teens. all can be found at the dot's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) encylopedia. tossing out a statement like that without empirical evidence is irresponsible and buys into the senior lobbying efforts, of which i'm not too far away and then maybe i'll change my view. but until then, the numbers are the numbers.

  6. Dan Kennedy

    meamoeba: Yes, the numbers are the numbers. I've got numbers. You've got numbers. I'm not opposed to more-frequent testing above a certain age. But let's not kid ourselves about which age group is more dangerous.

  7. O-FISH-L

    Terrible carnage on our roads this morning. At least 8 killed in MA between midnight and 6:30 AM, including two triple-fatal crashes. There was also a triple fatal in NH yesterday afternoon. What a sad way to start the holiday.

  8. sgpeople

    Young drivers are less likely to do this:The driver, George R. Weller, told the authorities that he confused the gas pedal for the brake, panicked and then accelerated over the distance of three football fields before coming to a stop. He tested negative for alcohol or drugs.By the time Mr. Weller regained his composure, 10 people were dead, 63 were injured, with one body at the edge of his tires, which the prosecutor referred to as "a human brake." http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/05/national/05drive.html

  9. Peter Porcupine

    DK – I live in an area with the highest concentration of elderly drivers in the state and no public transportation. And bad summer traffic.We need the testing. Really.

  10. LFNeilson

    Brigid makes a valid point. It is difficult to get around most towns without a car. I'm fast approaching geezerhood, and I would like to see a viable transportation network in place before I have to give up driving.I think that part of the problem is that teens and elders are incompatible when driving on the same roads. Build some drag strips in old gravel pits for teens and keep them off the roads.(just kidding).The statistics are out there, but we haven't studied them, have we? Even so, I agree with Dan. Who's the greater menace? Younger drivers.zzzzz

  11. Steve

    I'm always skeptical of statistics, and I wonder if the Post story is looking at the right ones. I went to the IIHS website and poked around at their study results. All the data I saw lumped together all drivers aged 70+. I wonder if the accidents per mile were broken out to 70-79, 80-89 and 90+ whether you'd see more pronounced trouble area among really older drivers.Then again, I'm sure there is great variability. My wife's aunt wasn't really a driver after age 70, the keys were taken away from her uncle when he was 80. But I have an 84-year-old friend who is still a very competent driver.I think instituting competency testing every 5 years at age 60 and wouldn't be such a bad thing.

  12. lkcape

    I would think cell phones, coffee and doughnuts are involved in A LOT of accidents, particularly amongst the young and middle-aged generations.Lets' ban those and REALLY get tough on DUI before we isolate the elderly.But hey, there ain't no political will, and the elderly are an easy target.EVERYONE should be retested as regular intervals…we can debate what they might be, but retesting/record review could save a LOT of lives and a whole bunch on your car insurance!

  13. sgpeople

    If you look at the news, it seems that younger drivers are dangerous at night and if they are involved in a fatality, it is usually a passenger in their own car. Seniors, on the other hand, are causing accidents in the middle of the day and frequently unaware that they have caused anyone or anything any harm. Too many drivers. Too much driving. Where is everybody going? Stay home and read a book. Mroe Public transportation is necessary.

  14. O-FISH-L

    As sgpeople alludes to, so called pedal-error seems to be a recurring theme in these accidents involving the aged. I believe Mercedes is touting a new collision avoidance system that slows and stops the car before it hits anything. I've heard other manufacturers offering similar systems. I'm sure some version of this could be retrofitted for used cars. Every car should eventually have the system, but in the interim it might limit the casualties caused by pedal-error.

  15. Bill H.

    I think that everyone who has posted on this makes valid points. Having had elderly drivers in my family, I certainly agree with Brigid, and I also know that I never came close to suggesting that they give up the keys, even though I worried a great deal. That said, I'm in favor of testing elderly drivers. I'll also say that, as someone who spends a fair amount of time on the state's highways, it's the young and middle aged drivers that I fear most. It seems to me–and maybe it's because I'm getting old myself–that there is more recklessness, more disregard for common sense on the highways than ever before. Sadly, no one has a solution for that.

  16. tsg

    There were 3 other accident stories in the Globe today. 45-year old guy with DUI arrest, car/truck collision (male, no age given), Sagamore bridge accident (no ages given). If the drivers were 75+, it would probably have been mentioned.Do we know if testing actually helps, or would it just make us FEEL more safe? Would the older drivers mentioned lately necessarily have failed? Five-year intervals are pointless–there has to be a way for families/neighbors/doctors to recommend someone for testing at any age, at any time.

  17. h

    I am not sure which is worse, the the young-ish drivers in their luxury cars constantly changing lanes during traffic, the cab drivers who like to drive on the lane, or old drivers who do not follow the flow of the traffic, drive 20 miles slower than everyone else, and thus create a dangerous situation for everyone around. One observation though: When a young person accidentally kills someone, he will pay for it for rest of his life. When an old person accidentally kills someone, he will lose his license and that's it. In other words, there is very little incentive for old folks to give up driving even if they know that they are impaired because they have so little to lose. Newspapers reporting of them are the only way to shame some of them into giving up driving.The real problem is not young OR old drivers, it's the fact that we all need to drive, period, to get around in this country.

  18. h

    BTW, I am not sure why do some people constantly accuse the media of not mentioning the age of younger drivers. I read the local section of the Globe almost daily and the age will always be reported IF the victims of the accidents have been identified.For example, the age of the people who died in the morning's accidents are listed as:19,31,20,20,23 in this article:http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2009/07/four_earlymorni.htmlThe article specifically mentioned that the reason why the age of the victims of the two other accidents were not reported is because they were not identified yet.So please, stop the silly accusations that the media is trying to "gang up" on the elderly by not reporting the age of other drivers.

  19. lkcape

    From the Cape Cod Times web site:"Woman struck by car after July 4th paradeBy K.C. MYERSJuly 04, 2009CHATHAM – An 81-year-old woman was struck by an SUV after the town’s July 4th parade this morning.The pedestrian suffered potentially life threatening injuries after an SUV backed into her on Post Office Road, said police and Chatham Fire Lt. David Ready.The accident occurred shortly after 11 a.m. just as people were leaving the area following the parade, according to police.The woman was found underneath the vehicle and taken to Cape Cod Hospital, where she was then taken to a Boston hospital by helicopter, according to a Chatham fire official.Police have not yet released her name or residence. The driver’s name has also not been released.The accident is under investigation by the Cape Cod Regional Crash Reconstruction Team."Shall we ban the elderly from walking too?

  20. meamoeba

    that's a foolish statement and a specious argument, lk. should we ban 4-year-olds from crosswalks because of the one who was killed in stoughton? we're talking the macro scene here and there are a slew of reasonable and thoughtful arguments on both sides on the comment section. that's not one of them.i think what most people who see the danger of elder drivers are saying is not take keys based on age alone but institute some regulations such as testing at renewal. it's not onerous; it's wise. while everyone defending elder drivers focuses on the foibles of the young, overloked is the fact we restrict THEIR driving under-18 and in many places over the years things such as cellphone and seatbelt use laws have been enacted that go directly to factors in errant and fatal driving among the young and youngish. but no regulations have been aimed at seniors except for a discount on insurance merely because of their age (recent Herald story.) most accidents caused by people under 65 are due to behaviors, not decline in physical heath. those behaviors are speeding, oui, technological distraction and the like. those are not age-related and can be changed or punished. bad eyes, frailty and delayed reactions cannot.

  21. Amused

    What does "potentially life threatening" mean, anyway?Do they potentially almost die?

  22. Peter Porcupine

    DK – watch the sarcasm. What if it turns out the SUV was driven by a 82 year old man? What do we call it then – 'Q-Tip on Q-tip' crime?(Full disclosure – I was IN that parade as a marcher, and there were literally more than 1,000 people packed 6 deep on a parade route about a mile long – it's a wonder there weren't more accidents when it broke up).

  23. Dan Kennedy

    PP: What am I being blamed for now? Sounds like you meant to respond to someone else.

  24. lkcape

    Meamoeba: Exactly the point that I was trying to make…the ridiculousness of a one-size-fits-all approach.There is a lot of punishment being meted out to the elderly for not much of a crime. The "crime" they are accused of is aging.Wait for a couple of years, and you may see what I mean.My argument remains regular testing and record review for everyone once every "x" number of years. The “x” is debatable.The idea is to get the BAD drivers off the road, not the “elderly”, the “young” or the “middle-aged”.But the liberal wisdom is to take care of it as a "class action".

  25. Middleboro Review

    My vehicle was struck in the rear, pushed about 1/2 a mile and when the other vehicle turned left at an intersection, my vehicle turned right, struck a pole and a tree.(Fortunately, there were no pedestrians in the crosswalk.)At the scene, the 19 year old driver said he fell asleep.This was in the afternoon, on a sunny day.In court on charges of driving to endanger, his attorney claimed he had a 'history of falling asleep at inappropriate times.' The symptoms described resemble those of narcolepsy and the driver was under a doctor's care.Beyond the cellphone argument and/or mandatory testing, might it make sense to require/mandate doctors who are treating patients for certain conditions to report them to RMV.It might seem that falling asleep might not be appropriate while driving.When I researched the law and spoke with RMV, there is no provision in the law to get this caliber of driver off the road.Coming to a sidewalk near you!3 years later (almost to the day), when I approached an interesection, a 40 year old woman was stopped at a stop sign and shot out in front of me. I swerved to avoid her, slammed the brakes on so hard I left skid marks across the road.When I subesequently sued her because she had inadequate property damage, she insisted the accident was my fault because my vehicle struck hers, stop sign be damned!That seems to be an issue of driver education.How about mandatory driver education courses for those who cause accidents?And make them self-supporting.Instead of promotional advertising from RMV included with notices, how about reminders for silly things like, you cause an accident because you're on your cell phone and you're at fault? The scariest thing is watching drivers of 18 wheelers maneuver intersections while holding a cellphone with one hand. Multi-tasking doesn't always work!Accidents caused by older drivers make headlines, but the RMV has been remiss in updating laws to reduce accidents and the cellphone lobby has been active in preventing legislation to mandate "hands free" phones in vehicles. If you inconvenience a working person with mandatory attendance at a drivers' education course, just maybe, they'll drive more responsibly, since the insurance surcharge doesn't seem to do it.

  26. Michael Pahre

    I agree that the Boston Globe's news coverage appears to be stoking the fire of the debate by covering an accident by an 83-year-old driver that they wouldn't cover if it were caused by a 43-year-old.Last month a Brookline police cruiser involved in a chase swung wide around a corner in Brookline (I think) and ended up in a storefront. I don't remember front-page coverage on the Metro section of the Globe after that one; instead, the local paper (Wicked Local) covered it online with a video obtained from a security camera. That coverage seemed appropriate based on the incident.Dan, on your point that the media don't cover dangerous young drivers, I disagree. There was plenty of coverage in the past year or two (I believe) when a bill was coming up for consideration in the legislature that would make changes in the licensing and suspension rules for young drivers. The bill passed. I don't remember the Globe then putting every 17-year-old's fender bender onto the front page of the Metro — like you rightly criticize the Globe for doing now.And a further point: both young and old drivers have similarly high accident rates. For the young, it happens at around <24 years, while for the old it happens at around >75 years. I wish I could find that graphic that I believe the Globe — yes, the Globe — ran in recent weeks showing the effect… but here is a 2006 story with a similar message.

  27. Dan Kennedy

    Michael: Could you please point out to me where I ever said that the media don't cover dangerous young drivers?

  28. Middleboro Review

    In this forum, it's probably not heresy to predict that the legislators will take the lazy way out instead of a more far reaching solution to this or any problem.1. Periodic testing makes sense, but not just for the elderly and testing needs to be done for those who are at fault in accidents.2. Mandatory reporting by doctors needs to be done and the illnesses and conditions that are included need to be expanded. 3. A mandatory seat belt law that's enforced would go a long way to reducing injuries and deaths.Not long ago, there was an SUV crash that killed an entire family, including children because no one was wearing a seat belt. It's not uncommon for passengers to be thrown from vehicles and killed. Sad to have to legislate responsible behavior.4. Driver education needs to be included for those who are at fault in accidents.Not long ago, I met a woman who was seriously injured when her vehicle was struck while making a left turn across 2 lanes of high speed traffic. She didn't realize she didn't have the right of way. Duh? Her children were in the vehicle with her and one almost died.5. Hands-free cell phones need to become the law!Unrelated to this discussion, we had been looking around at those 4 wheel utility vehicles (about the size of golf carts) because several friends have them and they're great for plowing long driveways or hauling cut wood through the woods. They cost about $8K new and I inquired if they could be registered to drive on "back roads," thinking of messy things like hauling hay or manure. From what I was told, you can register them in NH, but not MA. Might that be a potential solution in other than urban environments? They don't travel fast, can't go long distances and can't do much damage.Just my thoughts!Instead of targeting just one age group, why don't we work on solutions to make the roads safer for all and at all hours?

  29. Peter Porcupine

    DK – Michael AND I were both erroneously responding to YOU instead of the remarks by other commenters (for me, it was lkcape).The way you overshadow the comments make EVERY remark seem to be yours! :~)

  30. Aaron Read

    I wonder about the futureproofing concept here. Poor driving by the elderly may not be much of a problem now, but what about 10 years from now as more and more of the baby boomers reach "elderly" status? What about 20 years? Or even 30 years?I ask because if there's one age group notorious for having inordinate voting power, it's the elderly. Passing a law that makes less sense now but may…emphasis on "may"…make a lot more sense 10 years from now, is not automatically a bad idea. Especially considering that trying to pass it 10 years from now could very easily be politically impossible.And unlike young drivers, I'd trust old folks to actually care about (and follow) the law, in general.

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