In what it is calling “a remarkable reversal” from a stereotype about elderly drivers being crash prone, an auto safety advocacy group says drivers in their 70s are less likely to be involved in car accidents than drivers in their prime working years.
A new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that drivers in their 70s now have fewer fatal crashes per licensed driver and fewer police-reported crashes per mile traveled than middle-aged drivers.
“Historically, older drivers were more likely to crash than other age groups, and they were less likely to survive if they did crash,” a news release about the study says.
In fact, fatal crashes involving older drivers peaked at more than 4,800 in 1997.
As the number of drivers in their 70s has increased in the last two decades, better health, safer vehicles, and possibly infrastructure improvements and changes to licensing policies, have prevented a corresponding increase in car accidents.
Healthier older drivers are less likely to crash because the onset of problems like failing eyesight and impaired cognitive function is delayed, IIHS says. Seniors who are in better shape are also more likely to survive if they do crash.
The trend could become even clearer over the next few years, suggests Jessica Cicchino, IIHS vice president for research and a co-author of “Continued trends in older driver crash involvement rates in the United States: data through 2017–2018.”
“Older adults hold onto their vehicles longer, so it takes longer for them to reap the benefits of (vehicle) safety advancements,” she says in the report. “That means we’re likely to see survival rates continue to improve as these advancements work their way into the U.S. fleet.”
Fatal Car Accidents Among Middle-Aged and Elderly Drivers
Unfortunately, the rate of fatal car accidents overall has been increasing over the last decade.
Since the peak of car accident fatalities among older drivers in 1997, the numbers have been lower, even with vast increases in the number of older drivers and the miles they drive. But a reversal began in 2010, with car accident fatalities increasing among all ages.
“Fatal crash involvement rates per mile traveled and per licensed driver have remained relatively stable in recent years among older drivers, but this is a marked contrast to what has been seen with middle-aged drivers, whose fatal and total crash involvement rates have spiked,” the study says.
The rates of fatal crashes among middle-aged drivers fatal crash and police-reported crash involvement rates per vehicle mile traveled now surpass those for drivers ages 70–79.
For the new study, IIHS researchers compared trends among drivers 70 and over with drivers ages 35-54, looking at fatal crash involvement per 100,000 licensed drivers and per vehicle mile traveled, police-reported crash involvements per vehicle mile traveled, and the number of driver deaths per 1,000 police-reported crashes.
For drivers 70 and over, fatal crash rates per licensed driver fell 43 percent from 1997 to 2018, compared with a decline of 21 percent for drivers ages 35-54. However, virtually all those reductions occurred during the first half of the study period. More recently, fatal crash involvements per driver remained steady for older drivers, while those of middle-aged drivers increased, the report says.
The rates of fatal crashes and police-reported crashes rose substantially for middle-aged drivers in recent years and declined for drivers 70 and over. As a result, septuagenarians had fewer police-reported crashes per mile than middle-aged drivers for the first time in 2017.
Cicchino says time on the road, speeding and alcohol-impaired driving, all of which increase with economic growth, typically lead to more car accident fatalities. This might help explain the difference between older and middle-aged drivers, since older drivers engage in these risky behaviors less frequently.
The IIHS says that a total of 4,973 people ages 70 and older died in motor vehicle crashes in 2018. This is 15 percent fewer than in 1997, when deaths peaked, even though the population of people 70 and older rose.
The results of the study show that fatal crashes involving older adults remain lower than the peak levels in the mid-1990s. Even with the increasing proportion of older drivers on the roads, there has not been an increase in fatal crash rates among older drivers.
Risk of Car Accidents Among the Elderly
Despite the positive trends uncovered in the latest study, age does eventually adversely affect driving ability, according to research cited by the IIHS:
- Specific physical, cognitive and visual abilities may decline with advancing age for some people and are associated with increased risk of crash involvement.
- Many older drivers take medications, which can impair driving ability at any age.
- Failure to yield the right-of-way is the most common error by seniors involved in crashes. In serious crashes, the most frequent error made by older drivers is inadequate surveillance, which includes looking but not seeing and failing to look.
- Compared with younger drivers, senior drivers are more likely to be involved in certain types of collisions — angle crashes, overtaking or merging crashes, and especially intersection crashes.
- Generally, older drivers tend to be aware of their limitations and make adjustments to limit the type of driving they do. But some, including some who have high levels of cognitive impairment, do not adjust their driving.
Contact a Car Accident Attorney
The Insurance Institute study is encouraging news, but accidents can happen to people of any age.
If you are injured by another motorist in a collision, you can hold the negligent driver accountable for your medical bills and other expenses. In Raleigh, N.C., our car accident attorneys at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A., can help you obtain compensation to put your life back together if you have been seriously injured in a car accident someone else caused.
Contact us today at 919-661-9000 or online to schedule a free consultation about your legal options if you have been in a car accident.