Older Adult Drivers

Older Driver Safety  Awareness Week banner

In 2017, there were almost 44 million licensed drivers aged 65 and older in the United States. This is a 63% increase from 1999.1 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.

The Problem

How big is the problem?

In 2017, almost 7,700 older adults (aged 65+) were killed in motor vehicle crashes, and more than 257,000 were treated in emergency departments for motor vehicle crash injuries.2 This means that each day, approximately 20 older adults are killed, and an additional 700 are injured in motor vehicle crashes.

Risk Groups

Who is most at risk?

  • Older drivers, particularly those aged 75+, have higher crash death rates than middle-aged drivers (aged 35-54).3 Higher crash death rates among this age group are primarily due to increased vulnerability to injury in a crash.
  • Across all age groups, males have substantially higher death rates than females.4
  • 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.5
Prevention

How can older driver deaths and injuries be prevented?

In general, older adults engage in safer driving behaviors than other age groups, including more frequently wearing seat belts, driving when conditions are safest, and not drinking and driving.

Taking these key steps can help adults of all ages, including older adults, stay safe on the road:

Smiling senior man driving a car and looking at camera

Always wear a seat belt as a driver or passenger
Seat belt use is one of the most effective ways to save lives and reduce injuries in crashes.6

Drive when conditions are safest
Conditions such as poor weather7 and driving at night8 (Varghese & Shankar) increase the likelihood of crash injuries and deaths.

Don’t drink and drive
Alcohol impairment increases the risk of being in a crash due to factors such as reduced coordination and impaired judgment.

Additional Steps to Stay Safe on the Road
  • Download and use CDC’s MyMobility Plan to make a plan to stay mobile and independent as you age.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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.
  • Plan your route before you drive.
  • Find the safest route with well-lit streets, intersections with left-turn signals, and easy parking.
  • Leave a large following distance between your car and the car in front of you.
  • Avoid distractions in your car, such as listening to a loud radio, talking or texting on your phone, and eating.
  • Consider potential alternatives to driving, such as riding with a friend, ride share services, or using public transit.
Publications
References
  1. Federal Highway Administration, Department of Transportation (US). Highway Statistics 2017. Washington (DC): FHWA; 2018. Available at: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2017/external icon. Accessed 30 September 2019.
  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: www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars. Accessed 30 September 2019.
  3. Cicchino JB. Why have fatality rates among older drivers declined? The relative contributions of changes in survivability and crash involvement. Accident Analysis & Prevention 2015; 83: 67-73.
  4. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Fatality facts 2016, Older people. Arlington (VA): IIHS; 2018. Available at: www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/older-drivers/fatalityfacts/older-people/2016. Accessed 30 September 2019.
  5. 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.
  6. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Department of Transportation (US). Traffic Safety Facts: 2017 Data: Occupant Protection in Passenger Vehicles. US Department of Transportation, Washington, DC; 2019. Available at: https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812691external icon. Accessed 12 November 2019.
  7. Malin F, Norros I, Innamma S. Accident risk of road and weather conditions on different road types. Accident Analysis and Prevention 2019; 122: 181-188.
  8. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Department of Transportation (US). Traffic Safety Facts: 2007 Data: Passenger vehicle occupant fatalities by day and night- a contrast. US Department of Transportation, Washington, DC; 2019. Available at: https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/810637external icon. Accessed 27 November 2019.

CDC Vital Signs: Motor Vehicle Crash Deaths. In 2013, the US crash death rate was more than twice the average of other high-income countries. www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/motor-vehicle-safety