Driving into your later years isn't always hazardous, but it can be costly if you don't actively seek discounts.
Roughly 14 million Americans ages 18 to 64 years old were involved in an accident or near-accident caused by a driver aged 65 and older) in the past 12 months, according to a survey conducted by Caring.com survey. That said, only 11% of those surveyed think that older drivers are more dangerous than drunk or distracted drivers. That's a good thing, because few drivers 65 or older would give up the privilege willingly.
“Driving is often associated with independence and freedom, which is why many senior citizens are reluctant to give up their car keys,” said Andy Cohen, CEO of Caring.com.
If anything, older drivers are actually getting better at driving than they've been in years past. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) notes that of 4,115 people ages 70 and older died in motor vehicle crashes in 2013, the last year for which such data was available. That's is 30% fewer than in 1997, when deaths peaked, but a 9% increase since 1975. However, considering that Baby Boomers have swelled the 70+ population since that time, fatalities per capita among older people has decreased 47% since 1975 and is now at its lowest level.
There are a few reasons for this, and the associated cost is a big one. Customer data analysis by Insurance.com showed that the average insurance quote for a 21-year-old was $2,124, while the average for someone aged 60 to 64 was $1,159. However, the average quote for someone 80 to 84 jumps to $1,381. That isn't as bad as it was when you were younger, but it's still a jump from your adult rate.
"The sweet spot for car insurance rates is in your 40s to your 60s," says Penny Gusner, a consumer analyst for Insure.com. "In your 60s, you tend to drive less and you're more mature, but by your 70s your vision may be lacking and your ability to react may have slowed."
The problem is that drivers 70 and older make up just 11% of the driving population, according to the Federal Highway Administration but are involved in more than 12% of all accidents. Also, given the IIHS's finding that drivers age 70 and above drive 45% less than drivers in their late 30s, their rate of 3.3 to 7.9 crashes per million miles driven trails only the 8.6 to 12.7 crashes for drivers 16 to 29. Collision and property damage claims also start rising once drivers hit 70, with drivers 85 and older proving as destructive as someone in their late 20s.
It's why states including Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont drop their renewal cycles for driver's licenses to as little as two years for older drivers. However, only Oklahoma and Tennessee reduce or waive renewal fees for older drivers, which means drivers in other states are paying their fees more frequently once they hit a certain age threshold.
Meanwhile, states including D.C., Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia have mandates vision tests for older drivers -- which in Maryland includes drivers as young as 40. Illinois, New Hampshire and North Carolina actually require road tests.
So, if you're forced to jump through all these hoops, pay fees and -- in D.C., Florida and Virginia -- cough up a copay at the doctor's office to get an examination and a note, shouldn't you at least get to exploit some price loopholes? Absolutely. First off, if you know you're driving less, let your insurance company know and see if they'll give you a mileage discount.
"You can get a discount of 5% to 10% off your premiums if you let your insurance company know that you no longer commute or drive long distances," says Des Toups, Insurance.com managing editor. "If you switched from driving 12,000 miles per year to 5,000 miles, that should get you a discount."
Next, see if your insurance company will let you install a telematics device in your car that tells the insurance company how little and how well you're driving. Gusner says some seniors can get a discount of 5% to 10%, in some cases up to 40%, for a usage-based or pay-as-you-go auto insurance program. However, we'll note that not everyone is super excited about having an insurance company track their driving, even if the savings are substantial.
One of the better options out there is to take a defensive driving course that results in a 5% to 15% discount. The best part about this is that some states require insurance companies to offer this discount if you complete an accident-prevention course for “mature drivers,” though some of those same wiseacre states consider those as young as 50 “mature.” Finally, and this is a bit costlier, you can always buy a safer car. The IIHS has a number of safety picks highlighting safety features including electronic stability control, front crash prevention systems (especially those with autonomous braking) and adaptive headlights that help drivers see better on dark, curved roads by pivoting the beam in the direction of travel.
Just don't feel pressured to stop driving. According to Caring.com, nearly one-third of Americans 65 years old and older (30%) actually prefer their family to determine whether or not they should still have a driver’s license. That said, the National Safety Council found that 40% of Americans aren't comfortable speaking to their parents about driving and would sooner discuss funeral arrangements or selling their home.
Meanwhile, 26% of those 65 and older prefer to make the decision themselves, while 21% would like their doctor or caretaker to make the decision. Only 10% of senior citizens think the DMV or government should be able to make that decision. Driving beyond age 70 does comes with a cost, but unless there's a distinct possibility that it's going to cost you your life, the choice is still yours to make.
“No one wants to be the one to take away Mom or Dad’s keys, but sometimes it can be crucial for their safety,” says Cohen. “Plus, many seniors would actually prefer to hear it from a family member than from a police officer on the road. There are numerous online resources that people can use to make the conversation go as smoothly as possible.”
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.