The Car

Facts About Older Adult Car Accidents

Cindy Davis
Written by Cindy Davis

The good news and bad news about older adult driving and car accidents.

The Older Driver Good News

In general, older drivers are not necessarily bad drivers.  Many have enacted sensible driving habits like the ones described in 12 Safe Driving Precautions for Seniors.  In general, seniors drive fewer miles than other age groups which further reduces the opportunity to be involved in an accident. 

Licensed Drivers Over 65 by Year

As baby boomers age, the number of licensed drivers over the age of 65 continues to expand with an estimated 45 million licensed drivers in 2018, a 72% increase from 26 million 20 years ago. 

And it is estimated that by the year 2030, 85% to 90% of the 70 million Americans in the U.S. over age 65 will be licensed to drive; or about 60 million licensed drivers.

The Older Driver Bad News

But if seniors get in an accident, they are more likely to be seriously injured or killed.  That’s because as they age, older adults’ bones become more fragile and they probably have one or more medical conditions, for example heart disease or diabetes, that make it more difficult for them to recover from the accident.  The rate of poor outcomes after a crash is disproportionately higher in older adult drivers, due in part to chest and head injuries. Based on 2017 accident statistics for older adult drivers over the age of 65, approximately 20 seniors were killed each day in a vehicle accident and another 700 older adults were treated in the emergency room daily. 

WARNING:  As a former member of the sandwich generation these charts will keep you up at night worried about the safety of your teenager and parents.

Accidents, Injury, and Fatalities by Age

Drivers 30 to 69 years of age had the lowest crash, injury, and fatality rates.  After age 70 the crash, injury, and fatality rates start increasing.  These charts spotlight that while the number of crashes for older adults is still less than teenagers, the fatality rate is far greater than teenagers.  This proves the point that seniors’ frailty and underlying medical conditions make escaping injury or death from an automobile crash less likely.

It’s important to keep this in context.  While the number of fatalities has increased, the growth is in proportion to the number of people over the age of 65.  According to the CDC, the number of car crash fatalities from 1999 to 2018 increased by 30%.  Likewise the number of people age 65 and older during the same period increased by 30%.  So there has been a net decline in fatalities for people over 65 by 2%.  This is well illustrated in the Deaths in Traffic Crashes Involving Drivers 65 and Older, 2008-2018.

Most traffic fatalities in crashes involving older drivers occurred during the daytime (73%) on weekdays (69%), and involved other vehicles (67%) at intersections.

Crashes involving older adult drivers are often multiple-vehicle, lower-speed events that occur at intersections and involve left-hand turns. Causes include inadequate surveillance and difficulties judging the speed of other vehicles and the space available, such as an older driver’s failure to heed signs and grant the right-of-way.  Lane departures off the road or into an adjacent lane are more frequently due to medical events such as blackouts, drowsiness, or seizures.

Deaths in Traffic Crashes for Older Adults from 2008-2018

As Baby Boomers age the percentage of licensed drivers over the age of 65 will definitely continue to increase.  Because of their frailty and medical conditions the risk of injury increases with age.  More importantly, the number of fatal crashes starts to exceed that of teen age drivers.  By talking with your doctor and following the recommendations in 8 Things Older Adults Can Do to Keep Driving and 12 Safe Driving Precautions for Seniors, you may be able to extend the period you can drive safely.  It’s also helpful to periodically revisit the Older Driver Red Flags to assess how your changing medical conditions are potentially impacting your ability to drive safely.

Sources and More Information:

https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/older_adult_drivers/index.html

https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2018/dl220.cfm

AAA Conversations About Driving – Facts and Research

AAA Motor Vehicle Crashes, Injuries, and Deaths

About the author

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis

Serial entrepreneur and former full-time caregiver for eight years to her father with multiple chronic conditions. A graduate of Dartmouth College with a Bachelor of Arts in Pre-Medicine and Asian Studies; and a Master of Business Administration degree recipient in marketing and finance from UCLA Anderson Graduate School of Management. Currently lives in Dallas, Texas with her teenage son and advises businesses on strategic planning, marketing, finance, and operations as owner of Next Level Consulting, Inc.

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