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
June 2021

Introduction: With the growing older adult population due to the aging baby-boom cohort, there was concern that increases in fatal motor-vehicle crashes would follow. Yet, previous 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 fatalities nationwide.
Methods: Trends among drivers ages 70 and older were compared with drivers 35–54 for U.S. passenger vehicle fatal crash involvements per 100,000 licensed drivers from 1997 to 2018, 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: Since the mid-1990s, fatal crashes per licensed driver trended downward, with greater declines for drivers ages 70 and older than for middle-aged drivers (43% vs. 21%). Fatal crash rates per 100,000 licensed drivers and police-reported crash rates per mile traveled for drivers ages 70–79 are now less than those for drivers ages 35–54, but their fatal crash rates per mile traveled and risk of dying in a crash remain higher as they drive fewer miles. As the economy improved over the past decade, fatal crash rates increased substantially for middle-aged drivers but decreased or remained stable among older driver age groups.
Conclusions: Fatal crash involvements for adults ages 70 and older has recently increased, but they remain down from their 1997 peak, even as the number of licensed older drivers and the miles they drive have increased. Health improvements likely contributed to long-term reductions in fatal crash rates. As older drivers adopt vehicles with improved crashworthiness and safety features, crash survivability will improve.
Practical application: Older adults should feel confident that their independent mobility needs pose less risk than previously expected.