Claims Study Downplays Worries over Aging Driver Population

For traffic safety experts, the lingering question about the U.S. baby boomer population has been: Will this nation’s roads be more dangerous with an increase in older drivers? A recent report from the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) says the so-called “silver tsunami” of aging baby boomers shouldn’t stoke concerns that claims and crash rates will rise.

According to the Institute, the number of licensed drivers who were 70 years old and above ballooned between 1997 and 2010, growing by about 4 million. Combined with the fact that collision losses start to increase for drivers beginning at the age of 65, worries have run high about the “potential effects on traffic safety.”

“Age-related impairments can affect driving, so concerns about the changing U.S. demographic makeup is understandable,” HLDI vice president Matt Moore said in the Institute’s latest newsletter. “But looking at the overall number of claims, this isn’t the looming crisis some make it out to be.”

Part of that is because, while drivers between 70 and 80 years old begin filing claims at higher rates than they did when they were a decade younger, the increase in the number of older drivers is expected to occur alongside a shrinking proportion of under-30 motorists, the age group that has the highest claim rate.

The Institute’s analysis mirrors what a policyholder would see when looking at free car insurance quotes online over their lifetime: the price of coverage starts high when you begin driving, falls, then begins to rise slowly again as you age.

According to the Institute, drivers between 15 and 19 years old have the highest rate of collision claims, almost 70 percent higher than the average rate—but that is the peak for all motorists. Collision claim rates fall after that, hitting their lowest point between 50 and 69 before rising again at about 70 years old.

However, at 75 years old and even 85-plus years old, collision claim rates never again hit the level that youngest drivers see.

If claim frequency and insured motorists rates hold steady, the HLDI analysis found that the growing population of older drivers will “have virtually no effect” on overall collision claim frequency over the next two decades.

“In absolute numbers, there still may be more crashes in the future, but that is because more people will be driving, not because more of the drivers are older,” according to the Institute’s study.

Even posed with an implausible scenario where 99 percent of those aged 75 and older continue driving and are insured, Institute researchers found that the overall claim frequency across all ages would still only jump a meager 2 percent.

The nation’s aging population of drivers may present challenges “on an individual level,” according to Adrian Lund, HLDI president, but “they aren’t really changing the highway safety landscape.”

“Society needs to consider how to deal with age-related impairments among drivers, but major reductions in crash and injury risk will come from road and vehicle engineering improvements that can bring increased safety for everyone, young and old,” Lund said in the newsletter.

The Institute has also explored traffic fatality rates for older drivers. In 2010, older drivers made up 17 percent of all traffic fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but the Institute’s findings assuages worries about a spike in traffic deaths. According to a 2010 study from HLDI, fatality rates for motorists 70 years old and above dropped about 37 percent between 1997 and 2008.

The Institute attributed much of the drop to those older drivers’ making better decisions before getting on the road.

“The reasons aren’t well understood, but there is evidence that older drivers tend to limit the amount they drive, particularly at night or in other situations they find challenging,” the Institute said.

Other likely reasons for the drop are health-related, according to Anne McCartt, senior vice president for the Institute.

“Another reason [that crash and crash death rates aren’t increasing as expected] might be improvement in older people’s health and physical conditioning,” McCartt said in the 2010 study. “This could be reducing their risk of crashing and helping them fare better when they do crash.”

Improvements in medical treatment and trauma care and vehicle crash tests may also be attributable factors, according to the study.

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for Patch.com and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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