Older people | 2008

Motor vehicle crashes account for less than 1 percent of fatalities among people 70 and older; heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death. National Safety Council. 2009. Injury facts, 2009 edition. Itasca, IL: National Safety Council. People ages 70 and older are less likely to be licensed to drive compared with younger people, and drivers 70 and older also drive fewer miles. However, older drivers are keeping their licenses longer and driving more miles than in the past.

Per mile traveled, fatal crash rates increase starting at age 75 and increase markedly after age 80. This is largely due to increased susceptibility to injury, particularly chest injuries, and medical complications among older drivers rather than an increased tendency to get into crashes. Li, G.; Braver, E.R.; and Chen, L.H. 2003.Fragility versus excessive crash involvement as determinants of high death rates per vehicle-mile of travel among older drivers. Accident Analysis and Prevention 35:227-35. Fragility begins to increase at ages 60-64. At age 75, older drivers begin to be markedly overinvolved in crashes, but fragility is the predominant factor explaining the elevated deaths per mile traveled among older drivers. Li, G.; Braver, E.R.; and Chen, L.H. 2003.Fragility versus excessive crash involvement as determinants of high death rates per vehicle-mile of travel among older drivers. Accident Analysis and Prevention 35:227-35.

The following facts are based on analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

Trends

A total of 4,268 people ages 70 and older died in motor vehicle crashes in 2008. This is 27 percent fewer than in 1997 when deaths peaked, but a 13 percent increase since 1975. Deaths of older people were 8 percent lower in 2008 than in 2007. The rate of fatalities per capita among older people has decreased 40 percent since 1975 and is now at its lowest level during this period.

Motor vehicle crash deaths and deaths per 100,000 people 70 and older, 1975-2008

Motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 people 70 years and older, 1975-2008
Year Population Deaths Rate
1975 14,563,945 3,775 26
1976 14,960,120 3,896 26
1977 15,401,249 3,859 25
1978 15,876,541 3,824 24
1979 16,388,617 3,772 23
1980 16,897,977 3,861 23
1981 17,322,714 3,871 22
1982 17,783,888 3,655 21
1983 18,233,751 3,734 20
1984 18,662,938 4,052 22
1985 19,072,785 4,206 22
1986 19,463,480 4,445 23
1987 19,890,817 4,555 23
1988 20,302,280 4,925 24
1989 20,719,397 4,943 24
1990 21,164,283 4,844 23
1991 21,751,897 4,843 22
1992 22,321,217 4,901 22
1993 22,800,673 5,221 23
1994 23,243,845 5,425 23
1995 23,693,757 5,509 23
1996 24,056,323 5,578 23
1997 24,408,817 5,872 24
1998 24,793,551 5,798 23
1999 25,092,805 5,657 23
2000 25,559,879 5,379 21
2001 25,797,467 5,425 21
2002 26,005,326 5,332 21
2003 26,200,946 5,363 20
2004 26,337,518 5,106 19
2005 26,658,669 5,047 19
2006 26,884,798 4,636 17
2007 27,135,517 4,631 17
2008 27,521,034 4,268 16

Seventy-nine percent of motor vehicle crash deaths in 2008 involving people 70 and older were passenger vehicle occupants, and 14 percent were pedestrians. Since 1997, deaths of older passenger vehicle occupants have declined 29 percent, while deaths of older pedestrians have declined 36 percent. Although few older adults are killed while riding motorcycles, this number has risen. More than five times as many people 70 years and older were killed on motorcycles in 2008 than in 1997.

Motor vehicle crash deaths among people 70 and older, 1975-2008
Year Passenger vehicle occupant deaths Pedestrian deaths Motorcyclist deaths Other motor vehicle deaths All motor vehicle deaths
Num % Num % Num % Num % Num
1975 2,302 61 1,348 36 5 < 1 120 3 3,775
1976 2,490 64 1,291 33 7 < 1 108 3 3,896
1977 2,370 61 1,383 36 11 < 1 95 2 3,859
1978 2,515 66 1,214 32 9 < 1 86 2 3,824
1979 2,391 63 1,277 34 10 < 1 94 2 3,772
1980 2,399 62 1,344 35 14 < 1 104 3 3,861
1981 2,495 64 1,278 33 11 < 1 87 2 3,871
1982 2,430 66 1,124 31 9 < 1 92 3 3,655
1983 2,547 68 1,081 29 13 < 1 93 2 3,734
1984 2,764 68 1,164 29 20 < 1 104 3 4,052
1985 2,933 70 1,170 28 10 < 1 93 2 4,206
1986 3,166 71 1,157 26 9 < 1 113 3 4,445
1987 3,276 72 1,160 25 18 < 1 101 2 4,555
1988 3,540 72 1,271 26 17 < 1 97 2 4,925
1989 3,658 74 1,180 24 9 < 1 96 2 4,943
1990 3,525 73 1,195 25 22 < 1 102 2 4,844
1991 3,690 76 1,044 22 11 < 1 98 2 4,843
1992 3,801 78 997 20 13 < 1 90 2 4,901
1993 4,076 78 1,012 19 17 < 1 116 2 5,221
1994 4,291 79 1,021 19 15 < 1 98 2 5,425
1995 4,368 79 1,008 18 11 < 1 122 2 5,509
1996 4,492 81 951 17 17 < 1 118 2 5,578
1997 4,748 81 931 16 21 < 1 172 3 5,872
1998 4,683 81 965 17 18 < 1 132 2 5,798
1999 4,587 81 885 16 23 < 1 162 3 5,657
2000 4,406 82 807 15 34 1 132 2 5,379
2001 4,389 81 878 16 36 1 122 2 5,425
2002 4,287 80 845 16 36 1 164 3 5,332
2003 4,377 82 777 14 48 1 161 3 5,363
2004 4,113 81 763 15 41 1 189 4 5,106
2005 4,016 80 777 15 68 1 186 4 5,047
2006 3,681 79 707 15 62 1 186 4 4,636
2007 3,661 79 726 16 72 2 172 4 4,631
2008 3,382 79 600 14 108 3 178 4 4,268

In 2008, 62 percent of the deaths in crashes involving drivers 70 and older were the older driver themselves, and 16 percent were their passengers. Twenty-two percent of deaths were occupants of other vehicles or motorcyclists, bicyclists, or pedestrians. In contrast, in crashes involving at least one driver younger than 30, 43 percent of the deaths were the drivers younger than 30, 23 percent were their passengers, and 34 percent were occupants of other vehicles or motorcyclists, bicyclists, or pedestrians.

Deaths in crashes involving drivers younger than 30, ages 30-69, and 70 and older, by type of road user, 2008
  Deaths involving at least one driver younger than 30 Deaths involving at least one driver age 30-69 Deaths involving at least one driver 70 or older
Num % Num % Num %
Deaths in vehicle with a driver that age
     Drivers
6,377 43 9,369 48 2,440 62
     Passengers
3,484 23 2,983 15 621 16
Deaths of occupants in vehicle without a driver that age
2,674 18 3,025 16 409 10
Motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians
2,352 16 3,875 20 454 12
Total*
14,953 100 19,350 100 3,937 100
Note: Crashes involving passenger vehicle drivers in more than 1 age category appear in more than 1 column.
* Total includes other and/or unknowns

Population and mileage

In 2008 motor vehicle crash deaths per capita among males and females began to increase markedly starting at ages 70-74. Across all age groups males had substantially higher death rates than females.

Motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 people by age and gender, 2008

Motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 people by age and gender, 2008
Age Male Female Total
Population Deaths Rate Population Deaths Rate Population Deaths* Rate
< 16 33,422,273 971 2.9 31,903,396 659 2.1 65,325,669 1,633 2.5
16-19 8,874,432 2,318 26.1 8,439,985 1,146 13.6 17,314,417 3,466 20.0
20-24 10,845,428 3,840 35.4 10,213,553 1,131 11.1 21,058,981 4,971 23.6
25-29 10,940,956 2,873 26.3 10,392,787 825 7.9 21,333,743 3,698 17.3
30-34 9,959,083 2,091 21.0 9,638,739 590 6.1 19,597,822 2,681 13.7
35-39 10,568,801 1,910 18.1 10,424,980 673 6.5 20,993,781 2,583 12.3
40-44 10,745,556 2,105 19.6 10,761,793 726 6.7 21,507,349 2,831 13.2
45-49 11,314,075 2,186 19.3 11,565,799 847 7.3 22,879,874 3,033 13.3
50-54 10,538,558 1,974 18.7 10,953,633 743 6.8 21,492,191 2,717 12.6
55-59 9,014,715 1,624 18.0 9,568,730 613 6.4 18,583,445 2,238 12.0
60-64 7,235,924 1,277 17.6 7,866,812 520 6.6 15,102,736 1,798 11.9
65-69 5,306,217 843 15.9 6,042,465 422 7.0 11,348,682 1,265 11.1
70-74 3,958,711 752 19.0 4,815,548 447 9.3 8,774,259 1,199 13.7
75-79 3,096,817 694 22.4 4,178,346 435 10.4 7,275,163 1,130 15.5
80-84 2,239,493 547 24.4 3,510,351 433 12.3 5,749,844 980 17.0
≥85 1,863,565 547 29.4 3,858,203 412 10.7 5,721,768 959 16.8
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Based on travel data collected between April 2001 and March 2002, the rate of passenger vehicle fatal crash involvements per 100 million miles traveled was higher for drivers 80 and older than for drivers of any other age group except teenagers. Drivers 85 and older had the highest rate of fatal crash involvement. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. 2008. [Unpublished analysis of data from the US Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the National Household Travel Survey]. Arlington, VA.

Passenger vehicle fatal crash involvements per 100 million miles traveled by driver age, April 2001 to March 2002

Passenger vehicle fatal crash involvements per 100 million miles traveled
by driver age, April 2001 to March 2002
Age Fatal crash involvements Miles traveled Rate
16 1,021 10,991,775,116 9.3
17 1,410 17,007,229,957 8.3
18 1,790 27,575,876,114 6.5
19 1,885 26,116,988,928 7.2
20-24 7,184 167,139,739,780 4.3
25-29 4,873 215,143,526,035 2.3
30-34 4,438 258,141,237,337 1.7
35-39 4,492 269,147,680,452 1.7
40-44 4,255 288,295,560,019 1.5
45-49 3,530 226,862,752,042 1.6
50-54 2,878 215,764,866,751 1.3
55-59 2,238 138,646,175,519 1.6
60-64 1,678 112,124,892,364 1.5
65-69 1,416 81,468,138,271 1.7
70-74 1,453 59,206,606,813 2.5
75-79 1,477 35,214,532,480 4.2
80-84 1,046 16,566,473,047 6.3
≥85 740 5,097,372,229 14.5

Crash types

Among passenger vehicle drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2008, the proportion in multiple-vehicle crashes at intersections increased as driver age increased starting at ages 50-54. Multiple-vehicle crashes at intersections accounted for 41 percent of fatal crash involvements among drivers 80 and older.

Passenger vehicle drivers in fatal crashes by age and crash type, 2008
Age Multiple-vehicle intersection crashes Other multiple-vehicle crashes Single-vehicle intersection crashes Other single-vehicle crashes All crashes*
16-19 859 21 1,211 30 198 5 1,757 44 4,028
20-24 1,101 19 1,849 32 371 6 2,417 42 5,743
25-29 880 20 1,567 35 327 7 1,700 38 4,479
30-34 719 21 1,300 38 198 6 1,178 35 3,395
35-39 688 21 1,270 39 171 5 1,131 35 3,261
40-44 667 21 1,256 39 167 5 1,094 34 3,185
45-49 647 21 1,231 40 154 5 1,058 34 3,091
50-54 645 24 1,087 40 130 5 870 32 2,735
55-59 556 24 932 41 116 5 675 30 2,281
60-64 511 27 688 36 109 6 580 31 1,892
65-69 342 26 527 40 72 5 382 29 1,324
70-74 373 32 430 37 56 5 302 26 1,162
75-79 389 37 338 32 51 5 273 26 1,051
80-84 327 39 271 32 37 4 198 24 834
≥ 85 290 43 199 30 37 6 143 21 669
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

The rate of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people in 2008 was higher for people 70 and older combined (2.2 per 100,000) than for those younger than 70 combined (1.4 per 100,000). For all age groups the rate of pedestrian deaths per capita was higher for males than females, although there was little difference among those younger than age 13.

Pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people by age and gender, 2008
Age Male Female Total
Population Deaths Rate Population Deaths Rate Population Deaths* Rate
< 13 27,071,742 135 0.5 25,858,037 80 0.3 52,929,779 216 0.4
13-15 6,350,531 66 1.0 6,045,359 33 0.5 12,395,890 100 0.8
16-19 8,874,432 144 1.6 8,439,985 74 0.9 17,314,417 218 1.3
20-24 10,845,428 247 2.3 10,213,553 93 0.9 21,058,981 340 1.6
25-29 10,940,956 235 2.1 10,392,787 89 0.9 21,333,743 324 1.5
30-34 9,959,083 196 2.0 9,638,739 60 0.6 19,597,822 256 1.3
35-39 10,568,801 207 2.0 10,424,980 76 0.7 20,993,781 283 1.3
40-44 10,745,556 279 2.6 10,761,793 108 1.0 21,507,349 387 1.8
45-49 11,314,075 334 3.0 11,565,799 130 1.1 22,879,874 464 2.0
50-54 10,538,558 303 2.9 10,953,633 105 1.0 21,492,191 408 1.9
55-59 9,014,715 240 2.7 9,568,730 91 1.0 18,583,445 331 1.8
60-64 7,235,924 153 2.1 7,866,812 63 0.8 15,102,736 216 1.4
65-69 5,306,217 131 2.5 6,042,465 72 1.2 11,348,682 203 1.8
70-74 3,958,711 97 2.5 4,815,548 60 1.2 8,774,259 157 1.8
75-79 3,096,817 89 2.9 4,178,346 59 1.4 7,275,163 148 2.0
80-84 2,239,493 80 3.6 3,510,351 69 2.0 5,749,844 149 2.6
≥ 85 1,863,565 90 4.8 3,858,203 56 1.5 5,721,768 146 2.6
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Alcohol

Six percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers 70 years and older in 2008 had blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) at or above 0.08 percent, compared with 15 percent for drivers ages 60-69 and 41 percent for drivers ages 16 to 59.

Fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with BAC≥0.08 percent by age, 2008
Age Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BAC ≥ 0.08
Num Num %
16-59 16,151 6,631 41
60-69 1,672 249 15
≥ 70 2,630 153 6

References