Car Insurance for Seniors and Driving Safety: Older, Wiser, and Safer after Age 70

By Jessica Bosari
After 13 years in personal and commercial insurance, Jessica Bosari now writes about personal finance, car insurance, risk management and related topics. Since 2008, she has been simplifying complex ideas through engaging articles for her readers.

Car Insurance for Seniors

Ten years ago, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) worried the aging Baby Boomer generation was a looming threat to roadway safety. But this generation has proven IIHS wrong, both by driving more than previous aging generations and by doing it more safely. Today’s seniors should expect discounts for their good driving records and tendency to drive safely. Still, the special health concerns faced by seniors give reasons to proceed with some caution. Here’s what everyone should know about seniors, car insurance, and driving safety.

Experience Brings Safety

Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research at the IIHS, reported that no matter how we look at statistics on older drivers, we see that drivers over the age of 70 have fewer accidents than their predecessors did. In fact, accident rates for this demographic have declined more quickly than for drivers between the ages of 35 and 54. By 2012, accident rates for seniors had dropped 31 percent since 1997, even though seniors are driving more often. This generation increased driving miles 50 percent from 1995 to 2008.

Older Drivers and Injuries

IIHS statistics show that by 2050, the U.S. population will consist of more than 64 million individuals over the age of 70. These seniors are more likely to drive than previous generations in their age group, with 79 percent (up 6 percent from 1997) holding onto their driver’s licenses. And the older the driver, the more likely than ever it is they will hold a license.

With age comes greater concern for injury. Older individuals tend to injure more easily and heal more slowly. They are much more likely to die in car accidents than those in the 35 to 55 age group. But fatalities in car accidents have steadily declined since 1997, with the rates for seniors dropping at a greater rate than for other age groups.

Even though these drivers spend more time on the road than ever before, by 2012 those between the ages of 70 and 74 were less likely to die in a crash than the middle-aged. This leads to the natural conclusion that driving more often could be helping older drivers keep their driving skills honed.

Drivers between the ages of 75 and 79 were only slightly more likely to suffer a fatality. Those over the age of 80 continue to die at higher rates, but those deaths occur at a rate of only 5 percent more than the 70 to 74 age group. Back in 1997, more than 37 percent of crashes involving the oldest drivers resulted in a fatality. In 2012, that number fell to just over 19 percent.

Age, Wisdom and Learning

One factor influencing the safety of senior drivers is the wisdom to limit driving in conditions that may be more dangerous, such as high-traffic situations or rainy roadways. A 2011 study among senior drivers showed that seniors recognized their declining mobility and slowing reaction times and avoided a number of adverse driving conditions to compensate.

This responsible behavior likely stems from Baby Boomers watching their parents insist on driving despite declines associated with aging and don’t want to repeat those mistakes. Baby Boomers have the highest likelihood of caring for an aging parent, and studies show they’d rather talk to mom and dad about funeral arrangements than discuss taking the keys away. This source of tension probably makes Baby Boomers think more carefully about their own driving.

Discounts for Safe Senior Drivers

Insurance companies like senior drivers because they tend to place fewer collision claims. The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) studied trends among senior drivers and found that drivers aged 60 to 64 make the fewest collision claims. Those rates climb slightly with older populations, but never reach the high collision claim rates of those under age 24. In fact, drivers over the age of 85 are only a little more likely to place a collision claim than drivers between the ages of 25 and 29.

Insurance companies usually offer discounts to drivers between the ages of 50 and 65, but aging drivers have to work a little harder to save money. Seniors can take safe-driver courses like AARP’s Mature Driver’s Safety Course. This course, once available only in urban locations, is now available everywhere via the web. Seniors who pay out the $19.95 to take this course and then pass it successfully can enjoy discounts of up to 15 percent for the three years following the course. Repeating the course every three years can help drivers stay sharp and continue enjoying the discount.

Because retirees often driver fewer miles, they may also qualify for low-mileage discounts. Seniors who remain active in college alumni and other associations may qualify for group discounts as well. Because seniors are often homeowners as well, they may qualify for discounts by insuring their homes and cars with the same company. It’s also a good idea to check with banks and credit unions that may offer discounts with local car insurance companies.

How Old Is Too Old?

Although seniors are generally safe drivers, when things go wrong, they really grab headlines. An ABC News report details a 2012 crash in which a 101-year-old driver injured 11 people at a school, while backing out of a parking space. Statistics show that after the age of 75, senior drivers tend to be as dangerous as teen drivers are. After age 85, they are four times more likely than teens to be involved in a fatal car crash. Because senses and response times can deteriorate with age, some seniors may not realize their driving has become unsafe. For this reason, many states institute special driver’s license requirements for seniors.

Evaluating Senior Drivers

In states with a high percentage of senior residents, driver evaluation programs have become a cornerstone of driving safety for seniors. These programs help to spot medical conditions and declines that can lead to unsafe driving.

In Arizona, for example, driver’s licenses only require a visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles for a new photo every 12 years, until they reach age 60. After that, the renewal period shortens to just 5 years and requires a vision test. California residents must renew licenses in person upon reaching age 70. Renewal requires a written test and eye exam. In Florida, drivers over age 80 must renew licenses every 6 years, as opposed to every 8 years from younger drivers. Both California and Florida allow for confidential reporting of unsafe drivers of any age.

Driving Safe at Any Age

As Baby Boomers age, they should monitor their mobility and reaction times while driving. As turning your neck to look behind you becomes more difficult, or it becomes harder to see and hear, think about how these limitations can affect your driving. Medical remedies like physical therapy for mobility problems, hearing aids and glasses can help you drive safely, even as you age, while letting you enjoy the independence driving brings.