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Fragility versus excessive crash involvement as determinants of high death rates per vehicle-mile of travel among older drivers

Li, Guohua; Braver, Elisa R.; Chen, Li-Hui
Accident Analysis and Prevention
March 2003

Using multiple national data systems, the roles of fragility (susceptibility to injury) versus excessive crash involvement in the increased fatality risk of older drivers per vehicle-mile of travel (VMT) were estimated. For each age and gender group, deaths per driver involved in a crash (a marker of fragility) and drivers involved in crashes per VMT (a marker of excessive crash involvement) were computed. Compared with drivers ages 30-59, those younger than 20 and those 75 or older both had much higher driver death rates per VMT. The highest death rates per mile driven, 13-fold increases, were observed among drivers age 80 or older, who also had the highest death rates per crash. Fragility began to increase at ages 60-64 and increased steadily with advancing age, accounting for about 60-95% of the excess death rates per VMT in older drivers, depending on age group and gender. Among older drivers, marked excesses in crash involvement did not begin until age 75, but explained no more than about 30-45% of the elevated risk in this group of drivers; excessive crashes explained less of the risk among drivers ages 60-74. In contrast, crash over-involvement was the major factor contributing to the high risk of death among drivers younger than 20, accounting for more than 95% of their elevated death rates per VMT. Although both fragility and crash over-involvement contributed to the excess death rates among older drivers per VMT, fragility appeared to be of over-riding importance. These findings suggest that measures to improve the protection of older vehicle occupants in crashes should be vigorously pursued.