Senior Drivers Involved in More Longmont Crashes than Teenagers for Sixth Straight Year in 2017
Longmont crashes involving drivers 65 and older
Longmont crashes involving drivers 18 and younger
Source: City of Longmont
Car crashes in Longmont involving drivers 65 and older outnumbered those with a driver younger than 18 for the sixth straight year in 2017, further reversing a trend that saw teens in far more crashes than seniors for 21 years before 2012.
Data presented Monday by Longmont Transportation Engineering Administrator Tyler Stamey to the city’s Transportation Advisory Board shows seniors were involved — but not necessarily at fault — in 399, or 19 percent, of the 2,126 motor vehicle crashes in the city last year.
That represents a 10-percentage point jump from the age group’s involvement in less than 9 percent of the total crashes in 1990.
Drivers 18 and younger were involved in 324 crashes last year, which marked an increase from 2016 and a peak since 2007 for the demographic.
Before 2012, teen drivers in Longmont were in more collisions — hundreds more in some years — than seniors every year since at least 1990, according to the city’s Public Works and Natural Resources crash database compiled from police reports.
Stamey noted that crashes involving drivers younger than 18 has dropped sharply since 2004, when there were a record 526 such accidents, and the decrease coincides with the state’s graduated driver’s license rules going into effect. Those rules limit the number of people new drivers can have in the car and the times of day they are able to drive.
“We can definitely see that had a significant impact on crashes involving younger drivers,” Stamey said.
Anthony Smith, founder of Mountain States Driver’s Education, also partly attributed the fall from the peak in teen driver crashes to 2009′s statewide legislation banning all cell phone use by drivers younger than 18.
From 2009 to last year, adults were banned from texting and driving but could still make calls, but last year the state Legislature approved a new loophole that requires law enforcement to show adult drivers were using a handheld device “in a careless or imprudent manner” behind the wheel in order to issue a citation.
Drivers younger than 18 are still not allowed to use their phones for any reason.
“Since that was removed, it’s not a big a temptation (for teens),” Smith said. “It’s a changing dynamic. It used to be that (teens using phones while driving more than other age groups) was very true.”
Distracted drivers were found at fault in 350, or 16 percent, of the city’s crashes last year, but that number might not reflect all crashes involving a driver using a cell phone, as self-reporting is the main way distraction is determined to have contributed to a crash.
“If I had to guess it probably under-reports the overall distracted crashes,” Stamey said.
Transportation Advisory Board member Scott Conlin said, “Our gut says it’s probably closer to 50 percent of all crashes. There’s more social stigma to saying, ‘Yes, I was on my phone.’ I think people are generally cognizant not to say the cause.”
City data did not include information about the ages of distracted drivers who caused a crash.
City officials and advisory board members are probing whether the leap in senior-involved crashes since 2012 is explained by growth of Longmont’s senior population.
Of Longmont’s population of more than 94,000, 25 percent of residents are younger than 18 and 12.9 percent are 65 and older, according to 2017 U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
“The question that went back to staff was, ‘Is this a demographic issue that older drivers are now more prevalent in the city?’” Conlin said. “Our concern is it’s almost twice the rate of crashes in 1999 (for drivers 65 and older). If it’s not demographically driven, what could it be, and how could we help manage that?”
Senior drivers will likely account for more traffic volume on the city’s roads in coming years. Nonprofit Age Well Boulder County projects 26 percent of the county’s overall population will be 60 or older by 2040, with a 250 percent increase predicted for residents older than 80.
But giving up the car keys when driving skills have diminished is difficult for seniors “especially in the West, where we don’t have the same convenient transportation options as they do in other cities (on the East Coast),” Longmont Senior Services Manager Michele Waite said.
The city’s quarterly newsletter targeted at seniors and available at the Longmont Senior Center, 910 Longs Peak Ave., lists multiple services that offer low-cost and wheelchair accessible rides.
Low-cost improvements officials believe would curb crashes at intersections listed in Stamey’s report — such as adding oversized stop signs, stop bars and speed limit signs with large, easy-to-read wording — match Waite’s recommendations to make driving easier on older drivers.
“What does the contrast of paint against the asphalt look like? Is signage readable? All of those things really contribute to making sure that Longmont is safe for all of us and for older drivers,” Waite said.
Other recommendations in Stamey’s report to reduce crashes in statistically dangerous intersections include implementing longer green lights for left turns, starting pedestrian walk signals 3 to 4 seconds before the side street green light for vehicle traffic and adding advance intersection signs along rural and higher-speed roadways.
Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, firstname.lastname@example.org and twitter.com/samlounz .