It began with an illegal U-turn about 100 miles east of Los Angeles in Cathedral City. The “elderly driver” who made the turn hit a fire hydrant. The water gushing from the hydrant created a sinkhole that resulted in traffic delays as workers repaired it.
The city sent out a press release so that local media could inform area residents of the problems.
A troubling phrase
A newspaper reporter with Palm Springs’ Desert Sun was intrigued by the use of the phrase “elderly driver” in the press release. “The wording seemed to imply that the driver’s age accounted for the accident,” she wrote.
A conversation with a city employee convinced her that there was no malice in the wording, but that didn’t quell the reporter’s curiosity: she wondered how people felt about the phrase, and perhaps more important, whether or not older drivers are dangerous drivers who are more likely to cause motor vehicle crashes.
The reporter reaches out
A 75-year-old man had no problem with the use of the word “elderly,” but the story of the U-turn and hydrant collision resonated with a 98-year-old woman who still drives. She said her son pesters her to give up her keys, but she insists she’s still safe behind the wheel.
The reporter then dove into some National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics to determine if older drivers are more dangerous.
Diving into the data
The NHTSA says that though older drivers (age 55 and up) were 20 percent of all licensed drivers in 2019, they were involved in only 15 percent of fatal traffic accidents.
The reporter found more statistical evidence by digging around on the NHTSA’s website: “Seniors have the lowest involvement rates in other types of crashes too, including injury crashes and property damage only crashes,” she wrote.
Of course, drivers young and old all face risks of involvement in motor vehicle crashes. The age of a distracted, speeding or an impaired driver who causes a violent collision that results in injuries is of little relevance. Injury victims are much more focused on a return to health.