Mainers have been warned for years about the rough road we face as our population ages.

Drivers older than 70 have more crashes per mile than their middle-age counterparts and are less likely to survive accidents. In the late 1990s, demographers predicted carnage on our highways. This year, when the oldest baby boomers are getting ready for their 70th birthday parties, was supposed to be the beginning of the catastrophe.

We are still waiting, however. Today’s elders still crash more often per mile driven than their middle-age relatives, but they are crashing less often than their cohorts did 20 years ago. And when they do crash, they survive at a higher rate.

The calamity that was supposed to be the result of older drivers on the roads has not materialized.

Research scientists at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety cite two factors.

Today’s elders are stronger and less fragile than people the same age were in the past. And today’s cars are built to be safer than earlier vehicles, better protecting people in crashes with side airbags and features, such as automatic braking and lane-departure warnings, that help prevent accidents.


This trend is good news — but it’s not so good that Maine can stop working to prepare for the aging of baby boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964.

Maine is not only the oldest state, but it’s also the most rural. Housing, grocery stores, doctors’ offices and other services are still spread out over many miles of roads for thousands of seniors.

There are long waiting lists for senior housing facilities, which are often in settled areas where seniors can get where they need to go by driving fewer miles, or not driving at all.

Building adequate senior housing in walkable communities would not only meet seniors’ housing needs better, but it also would improve their health and reduce the number of miles on the road.

That could continue the positive trend even as more Mainers enter their 70s.

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