A label for senior-safe cars?

By Mark Vallet

Carinsurance.com

Air bagsThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says it is considering adding “silver” and “family” ratings to its New Car Assessment Program. The new ratings would help seniors and families find specific safety features or performance.

Gray-haired drivers are a growing segment out on the road and safety officials are taking notice. A whopping 78 percent of people over the age of 70 still have a license, which is up from 73 percent in 1997.

The numbers are set to keep growing. More than 20 percent of drivers will be over the age of 65 by the year 2025, and by 2030 a total of 57 million senior citizens will be cruising America’s roads.

While elderly drivers tend to strap on their seat belts, stick to the speed limit and get in fewer accidents, they also tend to get injured or die when they are involved in a crash. Seniors are three times more likely to be killed in a car crash than drivers aged 35 to 45. This fact is reflected in their insurance rates, which typically begin to rise again once the driver reaches retirement age.

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NHTSA says the new ratings will steer older drivers, for example, toward “inflatable seat belts or technologies that help prevent low-speed pedal misapplication.” (See “How to stop driving.”)

The family rating would help drivers with kids determine which vehicles best protect passengers in the rear seat. Providing a crashworthiness rating for vehicles based on the protection they offer to both front-seat adult occupants and rear-seat child occupants would help buyers find the safest vehicles for their families, NHTSA says.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group that counts Detroit’s Big Three as well as Toyota and Volkswagen as members, said it will work closely with the NHTSA on the new ratings.

We’d love to see a “teen” label someday, to identify cars with a lot of air bags, lousy stereos and about 90 horsepower.

-- Freelance writer Mark Vallet is a regular contributor to CarInsurance.com.


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