Driving is a key concern, but older adults are also increasingly injured and killed when walking, bicycling, and riding in vehicles.
The number of motor-vehicle deaths involving drivers and other road users age 65 and older decreased 7% in 2020, from 8,497 in 2019 to 7,902 in 2020. In spite of this one-year improvement, the number of deaths has increased 20% in the last decade. At the same time, the population of older adults in the United States has increased 34%, resulting in a death rate per 100,000 population decrease of 10%. These fatality trends are based on mortality data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The number of deaths estimated by the CDC is higher than what is estimated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The difference in part is because the CDC’s estimate reflects both traffic and non-traffic crashes, while NHTSA’s estimate reflects only traffic crashes. NHTSA estimates 6,549 older adult traffic deaths in 2020 compared to CDC’s estimate of 7,902 motor-vehicle deaths. Please see the Comparison of CDC/NSC and NHTSA Estimates for a full description of differences.
Based on CDC data, in 2020 older adult motor-vehicle deaths included:
- 422 non-traffic deaths
- 1,664 vehicle occupant traffic deaths
- 544 motorcyclist traffic deaths
- 1,403 pedestrian traffic deaths
- 165 bicyclist traffic deaths
- 3,704 other or unspecified traffic deaths
- Data Table
NHTSA estimates that the majority of people killed in traffic crashes involving older drivers are 65 and older. About 67% of the deaths in 2020 were either the older driver or their passenger, also 65 years of age or older:
- Older driver deaths: 4,233 (59.5%)
- Passengers age 65+ riding with an older driver: 533 (7.5%)
- Passenger younger than 65 riding with an older driver: 193 (2.7%)
- Other vehicle occupants: 1,424 (20.0%)
- Non-occupants: 725 (10.2%)
- Data Table
After age 34, the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes decreases as the age of the driver increases. Nearly 12,000 drivers age 25 to 34 were involved in fatal crashes in 2020. This number drops to 4,116 for 65- to 74-year-old drivers and continues to drop to 2,810 among 75 and older drivers.
- Data Table
In contrast, while older adult drivers are involved in fewer total fatal crashes compared to younger cohorts, the rate of driver involvement in fatal crashes per 100,000 licensed drivers increases with the 75 and older age group. This increase is strongest among males, but is also present among older female drivers.
- Data Table
Helping Older Adult Drivers
Similar to new teen drivers, older adult drivers are likely to feel more independent with a driver’s license and access to a vehicle. As we age, however, it is important to realize that mental reaction, situational awareness, vision, and motor controls may not be as sharp as they once were. Driving in heavy traffic or work zones, and during inclement weather or at night may become more challenging for the older driver. This perceived loss of independence may be difficult for older drivers to accept, and they often look to family for assistance. More information on helping adult drivers can be found here.
National Safety Council (NSC) analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS).
NSC analysis of NHTSA Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data and National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2021, May). 2019 older population fact sheet. (Traffic Safety Facts. Report No. DOT HS 813 121). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.