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Death Rate of Seniors in Car Crashes Studied

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Los Angeles, CACar crashes are something that can affect everyone at any age. A car accident is no respecter of income or stature. When you're in a car, car crash safety is the same for everyone.

Car CrashOr is it? According to a recent study, the older a driver is the higher the risk of death in a crash. And while it has been suggested that older drivers pose a greater risk to themselves on the road than to others, the fact remains that the percentage of elderly drivers on the road will keep going up as the largest wave of post-war baby boomers advance in years.

Those drivers have reduced reflexes and often compromised health that can result in a sudden health crisis while behind the wheel. Certainly, such an occurrence poses the greatest risk to the driver and the occupants of the car. But there are also risks to other drivers who happen to be in immediate proximity to a car whose driver's heart has suddenly stopped…

Researchers working in association with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety scrutinized data on fatal crashes from 1999 to 2003. The idea was to come up with a measurement for risk on a per-driver, per-trip and per-mile basis.

The conclusion was that drivers 85 years of age and older—at an age that suggests increased fragility—are more likely to die in a car accident than any other age group.

A spokesperson with AAA Northern California claimed that the death rate for the older group of drivers increased, although there was no corresponding increased risk of killing other motorists.

This appears to suggest that elderly drivers are a greater risk to themselves and their passengers, than other drivers on the road.

However, the study also found that at around age 70 a driver's risk to themselves and others on the road begins to rise—a risk that was determined to increase more rapidly after age 75.

That statement appears to contradict other aspects of the study that suggests older drivers are a danger only to themselves and their own passengers.

The car accident study involving seniors found that drivers 85 years of age and older lose their lives at a rate that's about 2 to 3 times that of 16 and 17-year-olds. The study also found, according to a report earlier this month in the Vallejo Times Herald, that older drivers pose substantially more risk to others per mile than the lowest-risk, middle-age drivers.

It should be noted that given the fewer miles that seniors generally drive in comparison with other demographics, the risk works out to about the same.

As for the passengers of elderly drivers, "the finding that older drivers have elevated rates of passenger fatalities," said Matt Skryja, AAA Northern California spokesperson, "may also be attributable, at least in part to their passengers being older—and thus more susceptible to injury."

There are a number of factors impacting car crash safety that suggests a potpourri of both good and bad news.

On the negative side, the advent of portable communication devices are giving more drivers a greater temptation to take their eyes off the road, to read an incoming text message or—heaven forbid—reply while driving. The combination of increased truck traffic (and larger rigs) with the shrinking of the family car makes for anything but a level playing field on the asphalt. And teenage drivers still tend to be the least responsible demographic in the bunch, with the least experience and a greater risk/thrill tolerance.

However, on the plus side vehicles are much safer than they used to be—(although critics will argue that things such as airbags are only there to make up for the disappearance of the padded dashboard and yards of energy-absorbing sheet metal). The nation's infrastructure—roads and bridges—are finally getting fixed thanks to the Obama Administration's stimulus package.

And with the post-war baby boomers at middle age, there is a wave of responsible and healthy middle-age drivers with a lifetime of experience who don't take chances and won't likely drop dead behind the wheel from a heart attack, causing a car accident.

But in 30 years it's going to be a whole new car accident world out there. Car crashes and the concern for car crash safety will only increase. The baby boomers will be 70 and 80. And still driving. We had better be ready.

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