Changing vehicles to reduce older driver fatalities: an effective approach?

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

Introduction: Age-related frailty leaves older drivers at the greatest risk of dying when involved in a crash compared with other demographics. Changing vehicles driven by older drivers to include features that enhance crash survivability might improve these outcomes. This study explored how vehicle size and safety features differ between crash-involved older and middle-aged drivers and estimated how those differences contribute to excess fatalities among older drivers.
Methods: We merged Florida's crash data from 2014–2018 with Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and Highway Loss Data Institute databases. We compared the distribution of passenger vehicle age, type, size, and safety features among crash-involved older drivers (ages 70 years and older) with crash-involved middle-aged drivers (ages 35–54 years). From logistic regression models, we estimated declines in older driver fatalities that could be expected if they drove vehicles like those driven by middle-aged drivers under two crash scenarios.
Results: Older drivers in crashes were more likely to be in vehicles that were lighter, older, and without standard electronic stability control (ESC), standard head-protecting side airbags, and ratings of good in the IIHS moderate overlap frontal and side crash tests than middle-aged drivers. In adjusted models, the fatality risk for drivers 70 and older in all crashes was significantly higher when ESC was not a standard feature (odds ratio [OR], 1.37; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.12–1.68) or when they were driving small passenger cars relative to large SUVs (OR, 2.02; 95% CI, 1.25–3.26); in driver-side crashes, the fatality risk doubled when vehicles did not have standard head-protecting side airbags (OR, 2.03; 95% CI, 1.58–2.62). If drivers 70 and older drove vehicles like those driven by 35- to 54-year-olds, we estimated 3.3% fewer deaths in all crashes and 4.7% fewer deaths in side-impact crashes.
Conclusions: These results contribute to evidence suggesting that newer, more crashworthy vehicles with improved crash mitigation features benefit older drivers because of their age-related frailty and resultant heightened risk of dying in a crash.