Older Drivers

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 has increased 32% since 2010, from 6,443 to 8,497 in 2019. 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 nearly 2%. 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 7,214 older adult traffic deaths in 2019 compared to CDC’s estimate of 8,497 motor-vehicle deaths. Please see the Comparison of CDC/NSC and NHTSA Estimates for a full description of differences.

Based on CDC data, in 2019 older adult motor-vehicle deaths included:

  • 464 non-traffic deaths
  • 2,021 vehicle occupant traffic deaths
  • 507 motorcyclist traffic deaths
  • 1,477 pedestrian traffic deaths
  • 155 bicyclist traffic deaths
  • 3,873 other or unspecified traffic deaths
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NHTSA estimates that the majority of people killed in traffic crashes involving older drivers are 65 and older. Nearly 70% of the deaths in 2019 were either the older driver or their passenger, also 65 years of age or older:

  • Older driver deaths: 4,458 (57.6%)
  • Passengers age 65+ riding with an older driver: 934 (12.1%)
  • Passenger younger than 65 riding with an older driver: 29 (0.4%)
  • Other vehicle occupants: 1,449 (18.7%)
  • Non-occupants: 863 (11.2%)
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After age 34, the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes decreases as the age of the driver increases. Over 10,500 drivers age 25 to 34 were involved in fatal crashes in 2019. This number drops to 4,404 for 65- to 74-year-old drivers and continues to drop to 3,229 among 75 and older drivers.

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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 starts increasing with the 75 to 79 age group. The upward trend is strongest among males, but is also present among older female drivers.

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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.

Sources:

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).

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.

See data details