Continued trends in older driver crash involvement rates in the United States: data through 2017–2018

Cox, Aimee E. / Cicchino, Jessica B.
Journal of Safety Research
In press

Objective: Fatal crash involvements per vehicle miles traveled begin to increase among drivers at age 70 years and continue to increase with age. With the aging baby-boom cohort (born between 1946 and 1964) and subsequent increases in the proportion of older adults in the U.S. population, there had been concern that the growth in the older population would equate to higher fatal motor vehicle crashes. Yet, previous trend analyses showed this to be untrue. The purpose of this study was to examine current trends to determine if previous declines have persisted or risen with the recent increase in fatal crashes nationwide.
Methods: Trends among drivers ages 70 and older were compared with drivers ages 35–54 for U.S. passenger vehicle fatal crash involvements per 100,000 licensed drivers from 1997–2018, for U.S. passenger vehicle fatal and all police-reported crash involvements per vehicle miles traveled using the 1995, 2001, 2009, and 2017 National Household Travel Surveys, and driver deaths per 1,000 crashes.
Results: Over the entire study period, trends continued to show an overall decline in fatal crash involvements per licensed driver, with substantially greater declines for drivers ages 70 and older than for middle-aged drivers (43 vs. 21%). Fatal crash involvement rates per 100,000 licensed drivers and police-reported crash involvement rates per mile traveled for drivers ages 70–79 are now less than those for drivers ages 35–54, but their fatal crash involvement rates per mile traveled and risk of dying in a crash remain higher as they continue to drive fewer miles. As the economy improved over the past decade, fatal crash involvement rates increased substantially for middle-aged drivers but decreased or remained stable among older driver age groups.
Conclusions: The number of fatal crash involvements for adults ages 70 and older has increased in recent years, but they remain down from the peak that occurred in 1997, even as the number of licensed older drivers and the miles they drive have vastly increased. Improvements in health likely contributed to long-term reductions in fatal crash involvement rates. As older drivers adopt vehicles with improved crashworthiness and safety features, crash survivability will improve.