Your request has been submitted.

Declines in fatal crashes of older drivers: changes in crash risk and survivability

Cheung, Ivan; McCartt, Anne T.
Accident Analysis and Prevention
May 2011

Objectives: Previous research has found that older driver fatal crash involvement rates per licensed driver declined substantially in the United States during 1997-2006 and declined much faster than the rate for middle-age drivers. The current study examined whether the larger-than-expected decline for older drivers extended to nonfatal crashes and whether the decline in fatal crash risk reflects lower likelihood of crashing or an improvement in survivability of the crashes that occur.
Methods: Trends in the rates of passenger vehicle crash involvements per 100,000 licensed drivers for drivers 70 and older (older drivers) were compared with trends for drivers ages 35-54 (middle-age drivers). Fatal crash information was obtained from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System for years 1997-2008, and nonfatal crash information was obtained from 13 states with good reporting information for years 1997-2005. Analysis of covariance models compared trends in annual crash rates for older drivers relative to rates for middle-age drivers. Differences in crash survivability were measured in terms of the odds of fatality given a crash each year, and the historical trends for older versus middle-age drivers were compared.
Results: Fatal crash involvement rates declined for older and middle-age drivers during 1997-2008 (1997-2005 for the 13 state subsample), but the decline for drivers 70 and older far exceeded the decline for drivers ages 35-54 (37 versus 23 percent, nationally; 22 versus 1 percent, 13 states). Nonfatal injury crash involvement rates showed similarly larger-than-expected declines for older drivers in the 13 state subsample, but the differences were smaller and not statistically significant (27 percent reduction for older drivers versus 16 percent for middle-age drivers). Property-damage-only crash involvement rates declined for older drivers (10 percent) but increased for middle-age drivers (1 percent). In 1997, older drivers were 3.5 times more likely than middle-age drivers to die in police-reported crashes (6.2 versus 1.8 deaths per 1000 crashes), but this difference was reduced during the 9-year study period to 2.9 times, as the rate of older drivers dying in a crash declined (5.5 deaths per 1000 crashes in 2005) and the death risk remained relatively stable for middle-age drivers.
Conclusions: Contrary to expectations based on increased licensure and travel by older drivers, their fatal crash risk has declined during the past decade and has declined at a faster rate than for middle-age drivers. The decreased risk for older drivers appears to extend not only to nonfatal injury crashes but also to property-damage-only crashes, at least as reported to police in the 13 states included in the nonfatal injury analysis. Although insurance collision data suggest that overall crash risk of older drivers may not be changing relative to middle-age drivers, the current analysis indicates that the reduced fatality risk of older drivers reflects both less likelihood of being involved in a police-reported crash and greater likelihood that they will survive when they do crash.