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Older Adult Drivers

In 2016, there were almost 42 million licensed drivers ages 65 and older in the United States.1 Driving helps older adults stay mobile and independent. But the risk of being injured or killed in a motor vehicle crash increases as people age. Thankfully, there are steps that older adults can take to stay safer on the roads.

Photo: older female driver

How big is the problem?

  • In 2016, about 7,400 older adults (aged 65+) were killed and more than 290,000 were treated in emergency departments for motor vehicle crash injuries. This amounts to 20 older adults killed and 794 injured in crashes on average every day.2
  • There were almost 42 million licensed older drivers in 2016, which is a 56 percent increase from 1999.1,

Who is most at risk?

  • Involvement in fatal crashes, per mile traveled, begins increasing among drivers ages 70‒74 and are highest among drivers ages 85 and older. This trend has been attributed more to an increased susceptibility to injury and medical complications among older drivers rather than an increased risk of crash involvement.3
  • Across all age groups, males have substantially higher death rates than females.3
  • Age-related declines in vision and cognitive functioning (ability to reason and remember), as well as physical changes, might affect some older adults’ driving abilities.4

How can older driver deaths and injuries be prevented?

Older Adult couple in a car

Older adults can take several steps to stay safe on the road.

Older adults can take several steps to stay safe on the road.

Existing protective factors that might help improve older drivers’ safety include:

High incidence of seat belt use
Among passenger vehicle occupants (drivers and passengers) killed in a crash, a higher proportion of older adults were wearing seat belts at the time of the crash (64% of those ages 65-74 and 69% of those ages 75+) compared with younger adults who ranged from 37% (ages 25-34) to 53% (ages 55-64).5

Tendency to drive when conditions are the safest
Older drivers tend to limit their driving during bad weather, at night, and on high-speed roads, in comparison with younger drivers.6

Lower incidence of impaired driving
Older adult drivers are less likely to drink and drive than other adult drivers.7 In 2017, only 6% of  drivers ages 75+ years involved in fatal crashes had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or higher, compared with 27% of drivers ages 21-24 years. Overall, 20% of drivers, regardless of age, involved in fatal crashes had a BAC of 0.08 g/dL or higher.8

Steps to Stay Safe on the Road

Older adults can take several steps to stay safe on the road:

  • Older adults can use and download CDC’s MyMobility Plan for tips and resources to make a plan to stay mobile and independent as they age. This planning tool helps older adults plan for mobility changes similar to the way that many plan financially for retirement. Older adults can take action now to prevent or reduce the effects of possible mobility changes, and stay safe and independent longer. In addition, older adults can review their medicines to reduce their risk of falls and car crashes. Read the “Are Your Medicines Increasing Your Risk of a Fall or a Car Crash?” fact sheet to learn more about the medicines that might have side effects associated with falls and motor vehicle crashes.
  • Follow a regular activity program to increase strength and flexibility.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review medicines–both prescription and over-the counter–to reduce side effects and interactions.
  • Have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year. Wear glasses and corrective lenses as required.
  • Drive during daylight and in good weather.
  • Find the safest route with well-lit streets, intersections with left turn arrows, and easy parking.
  • Plan your route before you drive.
  • Leave a large following distance behind the car in front of you.
  • Avoid distractions in your car, such as listening to a loud radio, talking on your cell phone, texting, and eating.
  • Always wear your seat belt and never drive impaired by alcohol or drugs/medicines.
  • Consider potential alternatives to driving, such as riding with a friend, ride share services, or using public transit, which you can use to get around.

Publications

Additional Resources

References

  1. Federal Highway Administration, Department of Transportation (US). Highway Statistics 2016. Washington (DC): FHWA; September 2018. Available at: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2016/ Accessed 15 November 2018
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). Atlanta, GA: CDC; 2017. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/index.html Accessed 15 November 2018.
  3. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Fatality facts 2016, Older people. Arlington (VA): IIHS; November 2018. Available at: https://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/older-drivers/fatalityfacts/older-people/2016 Accessed 15 November 2018.
  4. Owsley C. Driver Capabilities in Transportation in an Aging Society: A Decade of Experience. Technical Papers and Reports from a Conference: Bethesda, MD; Nov. 7–9, 1999. Washington, DC, Transportation Research Board; 2004.
  5. National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, Department of Transportation (US). Traffic Safety Facts 2016: A Compilation of Motor Vehicle Crash Data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the General Estimates System. Washington (DC): NHTSA; 2018 . Available at: https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812554 Accessed 15 November 2018.
  6. Naumann RB, Dellinger AM, Kresnow MJ. Driving self-restriction in high-risk conditions: how do older drivers compare to others? J Safety Res 2011;42:67-71.
  7. Quinlan KP, Brewer RD, Siegel P, Sleet DA, Mokdad AH, Shults RA. Alcohol–Impaired Driving Among U.S. Adults: 1993–2002. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2005;28:346–50.
  8. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Department of Transportation (US). Alcohol-impaired driving, 2017 data. Washington (DC): NHTSA; November 2018. Available at: https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812630 Accessed 15 November 2018.
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