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By Jim Adler July 10, 2015

Considering the accident rates for young and old age groups, you may have asked, “Are teen drivers more dangerous than older drivers?” The answers may surprise you.

While older drivers are more prone to wrecks due to weakened eyesight, slower reactions and other driving impairments, teen drivers aged 16 to 19 have a higher risk of crashing than any other age group. In fact, teens 16 to 19 are almost three times more likely to be in a fatal crash than drivers 20 and older.

Yet statistics show both teens and older drivers are vulnerable in crashes.

Senior Citizen Driving Statistics

In 2012, nearly 36 million senior citizens 65 and older held valid drivers licenses. In that year, over 5,560 older Americans were killed and over 214,000 were hurt in traffic collisions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), car accident risk for senior citizens rises with each year. In fact, fatal crash rates rise markedly beginning in drivers’ early 70s, and crash rates for older Americans are highest for drivers 85 and older.

However, these statistics don’t necessarily mean that such drivers have a greater chance of causing an accident. Rather, the CDC declares that older drivers, given their age, are more prone to injury and death when they are in a crash (even considering the crash may be due to another driver). Even so, the agency says declining cognitive functioning, physical abilities and vision due to advanced age can contribute to crashes.

Other factors favor older drivers, including their tendency to restrict their driving during night hours and in bad weather and to drive fewer miles than younger drivers. Senior citizen drivers also are less prone to drinking and driving. Only 7% of older drivers in fatal crashes in 2012 had an 0.08 BAC or higher, while 24% of drivers 21 to 64 years old in fatal crashes were over the legal limit.

Teen Driving Statistics

The CDC says traffic collisions are the No. 1 cause of death for teens in America. On average, 7 teenagers between 16 and 19 years old are killed every day due to motor vehicle crashes. In 2011, 2,650 teens lost their lives and 292,000 were treated in emergency rooms following auto crashes.

Persons 15 to 24 years old represent 14% of the United States’ population, but account for 30% of the total costs of car wreck injuries among males and 28% among females.

The CDC also found that teens are least likely to wear a seatbelt, reporting 55% of high school students ignoring this potentially life-saving safety measure. Among drivers 15-20 years old who died in crashes in 2012 after drinking and driving, 71% weren’t wearing a seatbelt.

Teens also are more likely to speed and tailgate, particularly when male teen passengers are in the vehicle. In fact, having other teens as passengers has shown to elevate teens’ driving risks, and the death rate for male drivers with teen passengers is nearly twice that of female drivers with teen passengers.

Among males from 15 to 20 years old who were in fatal wrecks in 2012, 37% were speeding and 25% had been drinking.

Reckless driving, drowsy driving, distracted driving, night driving and driving inexperience also contribute to teen crashes.

Preventing Teen, Senior Crashes

As for preventing teen and senior citizen crashes, many strategies can help, especially for teen drivers, since older drivers’ physical and mental impairments may not be correctable.

Unlike teens, older drivers already tend to use seat belts more readily, with almost 80% reporting seat belt use. Older Americans also can increase their driving safety by getting an eye checkup at least once yearly and wearing glasses as needed.

In addition, older drivers can leave a large following distance for the car in front of them; drive in good weather and in daylight; exercise to enhance flexibility and strength; plan a route before driving; and ask their physicians to assess their medications in terms of side effects — such as drowsiness — which could impair their driving.

Older Americans also can avoid distractions while they’re at the wheel, and they can consider using public transportation or riding with a friend instead of driving themselves.

As for teens, many of their accidents are preventable and their risks can be reduced starting with using seat belts, which can cut deaths and serious crash injuries in half. Avoiding drinking and driving also boosts teens’ chances, as well as acquiring more experience in proper driving. For this reason, Texas employs a graduated driver licensing (GDL) program for drivers under 18.

Graduated driver licensing mandates novice teen drivers get supervision by experienced drivers during their first months at the wheel. As part of Texas’ GDL, new drivers must drive for at least six months with an instructional or learner license — while accompanied by a person 21 or older — before gaining a provisional license.

With a provisional license, for 12 months those under 18 may not drive with more than one person under age 21 who isn’t a family member, and not between midnight and 5 a.m. except for emergencies, employment or sanctioned school activities. They also must not use a cell phone or other wireless communications device while driving except in emergencies.

Overall, teen drivers are not safer than older drivers, but drivers of all age groups always can improve.

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