WASHINGTON — Americans are living longer and driving later in their lives, but newly released numbers show a growing threat to the safety of older motorists.
A report released by nonprofit transportation research group TRIP finds fatalities in traffic crashes involving drivers 65 years old or older increased 22 percent from 2012 to 2016. The number of seniors killed in those crashes increased by 16 percent nationwide.
The report finds Maryland experienced a similar increase in the overall number of deadly crashes, but also identified a marked 33 percent increase in the number of older drivers killed in those crashes during the four-year period.
Virginia saw an 11 percent decline in older drivers killed in traffic crashes. The commonwealth ranked 19th among the 50 states and D.C. for total number of deadly crashes involving seniors.
The TRIP report identified Florida as having the highest number of fatal crashes involving older drivers.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 40 million Americans age 65 or over. The TRIP report estimates that in the last decade, the number of licensed senior drivers increased 38 percent.
“As we all age, there are likely to be some decreases in our [driving] ability, whether it’s eyesight or reaction, and older drivers tend to take that into account,” said Rocky Moretti, director of policy and research at TRIP, adding that older drivers tend to be safe, cautious drivers.
The statistical increase in serious crashes, he said, is mostly tied to greater longevity.
“The challenge to both states and the District is to make improvements in their roadway environment so it’s safer for older drivers,” Moretti said.
With older Americans living healthier, more active lifestyles, the report asserts that their quality of life is closely tied to their level of mobility, estimating that 79 percent live in car-dependent suburban and rural communities.
Given the grim trend, TRIP is advocating for transportation improvements such as clearer signage, brighter lane markings and overhead lighting, and more intuitive intersection designs, which they say would make it safer not only for aging Americans but for all drivers.
“Addressing this need to improve traffic safety is going to require transportation agencies having the resources necessary to make those improvements. Congress could take a significant step in increasing safety for older drivers, by boosting transportation funding by identifying a sustainable, adequate source of transportation revenue,” Moretti said.
The D.C.-based nonprofit also promotes education and training programs for older drivers and easy access to public transit routes to help improve the mobility and safety of older Americans.