Contrary to popular opinion, even the nation’s senior citizens want the older drivers in front of them to turn off that left turn signal and go the extra mile to prove that they’re still fit to be behind the wheel.
Over 70 percent of senior citizens now say drivers 75 years of age or older should be required to pass a medical screening and renew their license in person, according to a new survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Monday. However, only 33 states and the District have additional provisions for older drivers.
“I think that the popular perception out there among politicians and the public is, ‘Oh, seniors won’t want [tougher standards], and let’s not forget, seniors vote,’” Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said. “Politicians look at seniors and know that they vote in higher percentages than any other age group in our population. For that reason, I think there’s been a huge reluctance by lawmakers to enact legislation that might be viewed as unpopular to seniors.”
But, Mr. Anderson noted, “we’re discovering that seniors are comfortable with regulations and want to work to keep the roads and themselves safer.”
Other studies support these drivers’ desire for accountability. The California Highway Patrol found that 66 percent of motor vehicle collisions that involved a senior citizen driver and led to injury or death were the fault of a senior driver in 2012.
The concerns persist even though the new survey showed senior drivers are often more conscientious than their younger counterparts. Ninety percent of drivers 65 and older report not having had an accident in the past two years, while 65 percent of those 75 or older say they have never used a cellphone while driving.
And if seniors are more likely to be involved in fatal wrecks, the frequency of such accidents could rise.
The baby boomer generation — which formed 26 percent of the U.S. population when members started to turn 65 in 2011, according to the Pew Research Center — is increasing America’s percentage of senior citizens. By 2050, seniors will make up 20.9 percent of the population, compared to 13.0 percent in 2010, the Census Bureau reported this year.
Nearly nine in 10 Americans over 65 still drive, compared to below 50 percent 40 years ago. A striking 68 percent of drivers 85 or older say they drive an average of five or more days a week.
Reflecting those numbers, deaths and injuries of senior citizens increased 16 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“We have an aging population and, in many cases, the laws have not particularly caught up to them,” Mr. Anderson said. “Clearly, we’re going to have to do a better job, for example, of having lighted signage.”
In Florida, he added, “I see the signage that’s backlit. I see streets that are wider and more brightly lit. That’s because Florida has this huge senior population, and they have been adjusting their infrastructure to meet the needs of senior citizens and make them safer. And that’s because seniors are a very powerful voting bloc.”
Higher standards are “good for seniors” and “good for the politician.”