With our warm clime, low taxes, musical heritage and renowned cuisine, Texas is an increasingly popular retirement destination. However, some long-time residents of the Lone Star State might worry that an influx of retirees will make our streets, roads and highways less safe. After all, conventional wisdom holds that senior citizens are unsafe drivers.

Shattering conventional wisdom

A new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shatters conventional wisdom. The nonprofit research group says that “drivers in their 70s are now less likely to be involved in a fatal crash than those in their prime working years.”

The IIHS says that older drivers not only have fewer fatal motor vehicle crashes per licensed driver, but fewer police-reported auto accidents per mile than middle-age drivers as well.

Silver tsunami?

Historically, drivers over 70 were more likely to be in crashes than other age groups, and less likely to survive crashes. As the Baby Boom generation (the largest in U.S. history) has aged, auto safety experts warned of a coming “silver tsunami” on the nation’s roads.

But improvements in diet, exercise and medical technology have resulted in improved health for folks over 70. At the same time, improvements in safety technologies such as side airbags have made motor vehicles safer. Infrastructure improved, too: especially in better road-sign design and the inclusion of more intersection roundabouts. Add those improvements up and you can understand why the silver tsunami was averted.

Data included in IIHS study

In this recent study, the IIHS compared drivers over 70 with drivers ages 35 to 54 in these categories:

  • Fatal crash involvements per 100,000 licensed drivers
  • Fatal crash involvements per vehicle mile traveled
  • Police-reported accident involvements per vehicle mile traveled
  • Number of driver fatalities per 1,000 police-reported crashes

Crunching crash numbers

For drivers age 70 and over, the rate of deadly crashes fell 43 percent from 1997 to 2018. That’s a drop more than twice as large as the 21 percent decline in the fatal crash rate for drivers ages 35-54 fell.

It should be noted that nearly all of those reductions in both age groups took place in the first decade of the study period. In the second decade, the fatal crash rate for older drivers remained steady, while the rate for middle-aged drivers reversed course and began to rise.

In the categories of crashes per mile traveled and police-reported crashes of all types, the rates “rose substantially for middle-aged drivers in recent years,” the IIHS reported, while rates for older drivers declined.

The results of the IIHS study make it clear that drivers are like fine wine: both get better as they age.