More Ohio se­niors drive, have fa­tal crashes

The Columbus Dispatch - - Metro&state - By Beth Burger bburger@dis­ @ByBethBurger

Ohio ranks sev­enth in the coun­try in fa­tal crashes in­volv­ing older driv­ers, ac­cord­ing to a re­port from a Wash­ing­ton-based re­search group.

TRIP, a national trans­porta­tion re­search group, ex­am­ined fa­tal crashes be­tween 2012 and 2016 across the coun­try. The study showed fa­tal crashes in­volv­ing older driv­ers are in­creas­ing. That’s in part due to the grow­ing num­ber of older Amer­i­cans, ac­cord­ing to the group.

“The rapidly grow­ing ranks of older Amer­i­cans will far out­pace pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions with their level of mo­bil­ity and ac­tiv­ity. Serv­ing their mo­bil­ity needs will re­quire a trans­porta­tion sys­tem that in­cludes safer roads, safer ve­hi­cles, safer driv­ers and im­proved choices,” Will Wilkins, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of TRIP, said in a re­leased state­ment.

For the five-year pe­riod in Ohio, 22 per­cent of fa­tal crashes in­volved at least one driver 65 or older. That age group makes up 20 per­cent of li­censed driv­ers in the state, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

“AAA is con­cerned by the grow­ing num­ber of in­juries and deaths in­volv­ing older driv­ers in our state,” said Mary Lou Gal­limore, traf­fic safety pro­gram man­ager at AAA Ohio Auto Club, in a state­ment. Im­prove­ments could be made to “keep aging road users safe through ed­u­ca­tion, li­cens­ing, al­ter­na­tive trans­porta­tion, and in­fras­truc­ture en­hance­ments,” she said.

State High­way Pa­trol spokesman Lt. Robert Sellers said there has been an in­crease across Ohio of older driv­ers in­volved in fa­tal crashes.

When asked what could lead to more crashes, he said, “I think part of it can be vi­sion. Part of it can be de­clin­ing abil­i­ties. And, in this day and age, you can’t rule out dis­trac­tions, as well,” he said.

TRIP is push­ing for safer roads and has rec­om­mended sev­eral im­prove­ments, in­clud­ing widen­ing turn lanes, in­stalling more rum­ble strips and re­plac­ing signs with ones that have clearer and larger let­ters. TRIP also wants to pro­mote more ed­u­ca­tion for older driv­ers. The non­profit group is sup­ported by busi­nesses, in­clud­ing in­sur­ance com­pa­nies and those in­volved in high­way en­gi­neer­ing and con­struc­tion, ac­cord­ing to its re­port.

Colum­bus po­lice Sgt. Brooke Wil­son, who over­sees his depart­ment’s Ac­ci­dent In­ves­ti­ga­tion Unit, said that Colum­bus had 65 fa­tal traf­fic crashes in 2017. Of those, five crashes, or 7.7 per­cent, in­volved driv­ers who were 65 or older. The av­er­age age of those in­volved was 71.

“It ap­pears Colum­bus is quite be­low the rest of Ohio ... with re­spect to ‘per­cent­age of fa­tal­i­ties in­volv­ing at least one 65+ driver,’” Wil­son said, in an email to The Dis­patch.

Wil­son said while age cer­tainly could be a con­tribut­ing fac­tor in crashes, he said older adults are also phys­i­cally more frag­ile.

“How many el­derly peo­ple be­come traf­fic fa­tal­i­ties be­cause they are phys­i­cally less able to re­sist or re­cover from in­juries that may not be fa­tal for some­one who is younger or oth­er­wise less vul­ner­a­ble?” he said.

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