The stereotype that grandma and grandpa are worse drivers and more likely to get into a wreck when they get behind the wheel is a myth, according to new research presented this week at the British Science Festival by a team of scientists from Swansea University in Wales.
In fact, drivers over the age of 70 are actually involved in roughly four times fewer motor vehicle accidents than males between the ages of 17 and 21, Charles Musselwhite, associate professor of gerontology at the university’s Centre for Innovative Aging, and his colleagues reported.
According to BBC News and The Telegraph, the research team reviewed police crash data and timed drivers of various ages while they completed tricky maneuvers. They discovered that, while elderly drivers were more likely to be involved in an accident than the safest group (those in their 40s), they were no more likely than most other motor vehicle operators to be in a wreck.
“While people think older people are dangerous on the road, they aren’t,” Musselwhite told The Telegraph. “People also think testing old people will make the roads safer – it won’t.” In fact, he warned, preventing seniors from driving could actually cause them more harm than good.
Giving up driving could be hazardous to seniors’ health
The authors of the new study found that seniors who stopped getting behind the wheel tended to face a greater risk of premature death or being involved in an accident as a pedestrian (falling on ice or being hit by a car, for example). While this age group represented only 19% of pedestrians in the UK, they accounted for 40% of pedestrian deaths, Musselwhite’s team found.
The overwhelming majority of older men and women (88%) walked at a slower pace than the 3 mph needed to cross a street before the “Don’t Walk” sign disappeared, the study also revealed, and giving up driving also left seniors at an increased risk of depression or social isolation since it prevented them from visiting their friends and family members, according to the research.
“We live in a hyper-mobile society. Shops and service are further away. Friends and family are further away than previous generations,” Musselwhite told The Telegraph. “Giving up driving is linked to an increase in depression, health related problems and mortality,” he explained. “So there is something really important about driving in later life.”
His team’s research also found that older drivers were most likely to make a mistake when they felt as though they were under pressure from other motor vehicle operators, and that they tended to be involved in different types of accidents than their younger counterparts. While young males were more likely to be in one car accidents typically linked to speeding or a loss of control, older folks tended to have smaller impact collisions involving other drivers, BBC News reported.
While seniors are also more likely to be injured or die in accidents because they tend to be more fragile on the whole, they are also more likely to compensate for their declining prowess behind the wheel by driving more carefully, going at slower speeds, leaving a larger space between cars and by going out less often when the weather is bad or traffic tends to be at its heaviest.
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