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Age vs. inexperience: Who are safer drivers, teens or the elderly?

Over the years, we've heard a lot of tropes about both teen drivers and the elderly. There are very real challenges to safe driving in either age group.

Teens are inexperienced drivers. They also tend to take more risks than older people. That can mean trouble on the road, as they undertake behaviors that are risky without knowing just how risky or how to recover. When confronted by an unexpected situation or emergency, they often don't know how to react appropriately.

On the other hand, aged people tend to have more physical problems that could affect their driving. They have decades of experience behind the wheel, but they may have vision problems, slower cognition and delayed reaction times. They may lack the physical strength to handle a sudden emergency that requires forceful braking. They may find it harder to pay attention.

So, who is the safer driver? A teen or an elderly person?

According to the National Safety Council, bet on the older driver.

Teen drivers are heavily over-represented in traffic crashes. Those between 16 and 19 account for 3.9% of licensed drivers in the U.S., but they are the drivers in 8.8% of all crashes and 5.9% of fatal crashes.

Meanwhile, older drivers are under-represented in crashes. The Council says that people over 75 make up 7.5% of licensed drivers but account for only 3.4% of the drivers in all crashes and 6.1% of drivers in fatal crashes.

Those data points are reflective of an overall trend. The crash rate per 100,000 licensed drivers decreases steadily with increases in the drivers' age. The fatal crash rate among people 75 and older is slightly higher than the trend would otherwise suggest.

In fact, the age-related decrease in crash rates per 100,000 drivers starts as soon as the teen years end. The crash rate is relatively steady between ages 16 and 22 but begins to go down as soon as drivers begin to turn 23.

So, before you blame an accident on an older driver, be aware that crash rates consistently go down as drivers age. Experience is a better predictor of low crash risk than physical fitness.

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