TODAY   |  December 03, 2012

Drivers in their 80s have half teens’ crash rate

A new AAA report finds that most senior citizens are much better than previously thought behind the wheel, with drivers in their 60s having the same crash rate as those in their 30s, and drivers in their 80s performing twice as well as teens. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> back now at 7:46, a surprising look at aging drivers. the so-called silver tsunami, and there is new information about how the country's fastest growing age group is performing behind the wheel. nbc's tom costello explains. tom, good morning to you.

>> hi, savannah, good morning. 4,500 seniors were killed on the nation's roads in 2010 , but listen to this. that's down 40% over the last lee years and the vast majority of seniors, don't drink and drive, don't drive at night, obey traffic rules and it turns out they are pretty good drivers.

>> bill keller knows a thing or two about life, and for that matter about driving.

>> where are we going?

>> bill has been driving since he was 12 years old. he's 97 today and drives every day.

>> what's the most difficult part of driving for you.

>> for me. i have no trouble driving. i don't have any problems.

>> reporter: in 85 years behind the wheel nothing more than a fender bender or two. how unusual is that? just last week a toddler in georgia narrowly avoided being hit by a senior driver who crashed into a jewelry store, and we've all seen the horrific images from california after a driver mowed down a group of shoppers. nationwide 34 million licensed drivers are 65 or older, but surprisingly drivers in their 60s have the same crash rate as drivers in their 30s, and drivers in the mid to late 80s have half the crash rate of teens or early 20s, but they do have the highest accident death rate .

>> it is because when they are in a crash they are much more likely to be seriously injured because of the frailty of the human body . sob just cut you off. you're not upset about it.

>> no. patience, patience, patience.

>> reporter: bill admits he can't turn his head like he used to.

>> it's just the fact of growing old and everything is wearing out.

>> reporter: he likes his push start ignition, one of the features aaa says makes driving easier for seniors. other suggestions, a four-door car with a front seat not too low to the ground, controls that raise the seat up and down, a big-grip steering wheel for a seniors with arthritis, big dashboard buttons, a backup camera and big windows with good visibility but not so many gadgets that it becomes disorienteding.

>> very simple in terms of its design and few bells and whistles in terms of what you see on the dash.

>> one of the hardest things for me is to drive slowly. i love to drive fast.

>> reporter: even at 97 you like to drive fast?

>> i could drive fast.

>> reporter: some things never end. you're probably wondering so what does bill attribute his long age? well, listen to this, he's never liked junk food or cake or candy, even soda, and even today he prefers a bowl of broccoli to a bowl of ice cream . he also gave up drinking and smoking about 50 years ago. savannah, back to you.

>> rules to live by. tom costello, thank you so.