1.  55 Alive

  1. Agency finds Older Drivers more Involved in Fatal Crashes
  2. Elderly Drivers
  3. Improved Driving Environment Could Help Older Motorists
  4. Older Drivers Should Seek Help if Driving becomes Difficult
  5. Safety Tips For Older Drivers

Agency Finds Older Drivers More Involved in Fatal Crashes

The number of fatal crashes in which older drivers are involved is increasing, reported the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 1988-98, the number of people aged 65 and older grew 14 percent. Every state but the District of Columbia showed an increase. But 23 of the states showed increases in elderly involvement in fatal crashes higher than the 14 percent increase in population.

These states have the lowest older driver fatality rates per 100,000 older population: Hawaii, 3.8; Massachusetts, 4.4; Rhode Island, 4.5; the District of Columbia, 5.5; and New York, 6.6. States with the highest fatality rates include: Mississippi, 32.4; Montana, 23.9; Georgia, 21.4; Wyoming, 21.4; and Alabama, 20.1.

Persons 65 years old and older make up 13 percent of the population. The states with the highest percentage of older persons are Florida, 18 percent; Pennsylvania, 16 percent; Rhode Island, 16 percent; West Virginia, 15 percent; and Iowa, 15 percent. States with the lowest percentage of older persons are: Alaska, 5 percent; Utah, 9 percent; Texas, 10 percent; Georgia, 10 percent; Colorado, 10 percent.

For more information, call Keith Poindexter, NHTSA, (202) 366-0018.

This document was last updated on March 23, 2001.

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Elderly Drivers

FACTS - 1996 Fatalities

Relatively few deaths of elderly people--1 percent or fewer--involve motor vehicles. Cancer, heart disease, and stroke are the leading causes of death among people 65 years and older. Fewer elderly people are licensed to drive, compared with younger groups, and they drive fewer miles per licensed driver.

On the other hand, there's cause for concern when elderly people do drive because they have higher rates of fatal crashes per mile driven, per 100,000 people, and per licensed driver than any other group except young drivers. A problem is that elderly drivers don't deal as well as younger ones with complex traffic situations, and multiple-vehicle crashes at intersections increase markedly with age. Elderly drivers are more likely to get traffic citations for failing to yield, turning improperly, and running stop signs and red lights.

Once they're in crashes, elderly people are more susceptible than younger people to medical complications following motor vehicle crash injuries. This means they're more likely to die from their injuries.

The following facts are based on analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System:

  • 7,078 people 65 years and older died in motor vehicle crashes in 1996, 1 percent more than in 1995 and 32 percent more than in 1975.
  • Eighty percent of elderly deaths in 1996 motor vehicle crashes were passenger vehicle occupants, and 17 percent were pedestrians.
  • People 65 years and older represented 13 percent of the population in 1996 and 17 percent of motor vehicle deaths. By 2030, elderly people are expected to represent 20 percent of the population.

Population, Mileage, and Licensure Rates

  • People age 70 and older have more motor vehicle deaths per 100,000 people than other groups except people younger than 25.
  • Per mile driven, drivers 75 years and older have higher rates of fatal motor vehicle crashes than drivers in other age groups except teenagers.
  • Per licensed driver, fatal crash rates rise sharply at age 70 and older.

Crash Types

  • About half of fatal crashes involving drivers 80 years and older occur at intersections and involve more than one vehicle. This compares with 23 percent among drivers up to age 50.
  • People 75 years and older have the highest pedestrian death rates per 100,000 people.
  • At age 80 and older, the pedestrian death rate per 100,000 among men is more than 3 times as high as at age 79 and younger.

Gender Differences

  • The motor vehicle death rate per 100,000 people begins to rise among males at age 65. By age 80 and older, the rate among men is more than twice as high as it is at age 40-74.
  • At all ages, males have much higher motor vehicle death rates per 100,000 people compared with females. By age 85 and older, the rate is more than 3 times as high among men as among women.



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Improved Driving Environment Could Help Older Motorists

Americans aged 70 and older are becoming increasing involved in fatal traffic crashes even though overall traffic fatalities are declining. The Road Information Program (TRIP) reports that new data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that the number of older drivers involved in fatal crashes increased 33 percent during 1988-98.

In 1998, Florida had the most older drivers involved in fatal accidents-474. Texas and California each had 316; Pennsylvania had 224; New York had 220. The other top 10 states are North Carolina (194), Georgia (181), Michigan (172), Ohio (161), and Illinois (157).

"As a general rule, older motorists are safe drivers who recognize their own limitations, often avoiding peak-hour and night travel," TRIP executive director William Wilkins said, "Like all Americans, they are tremendously dependent on the freedom of movement provided by their cars."

The proportion of older drivers involved in traffic fatalities increased from, 716 in 1988 to 4,934 in 1998-an 8.7 percent jump. Meanwhile, overall traffic fatalities dropped 11.9 percent, from 47,087 in 1988 to 41,4712 in 1998.

Traffic fatalities overall have decreased due to increases in safety belt use and declines in alcohol-related fatalities, according to Wilkins. Safety belt use has improved 69 percent over the last 10 years, while alcohol-related crashes declined from 50 percent in 1988 to 38 percent in 1998.

This document was last updated on November 3, 1999.

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Older Drivers Should Seek Help If Driving Becomes Difficult

Of the 200 million registered drivers in the United States, approximately 10 million are over age 75. This age group has more accidents per mile than any other group except teenagers. Often, the impaired driving ability of seniors can be attributed to health problems, according to Marvin Lipman, M.D., Consumer's Union's chief medical advisor.

Some impairments that commonly interfere with safe driving are vision and hearing problems, physical disabilities, and medication-induced dizziness or confusion. Individuals with glaucoma or cataracts often have poor night vision. Also, eye drops can interfere with the ability to adjust to low light or sudden brightness, such as the glare of oncoming headlights. To lessen these problems, cataract surgery or changing to a different eye drop may help.

As for hearing problems, seniors should have their hearing checked annually and wear a hearing aid if necessary. The inability to hear other drivers' car horns can be very dangerous.

Arthritis or Parkinson's disease can decrease reaction time to traffic dangers. Diabetes can cause a loss of sensation in the feet, which prevents drivers from gauging the amount of pressure they're applying to the brake and gas pedals. Occupational and physical therapy can improve strength and coordination and may help individuals drive more safely while keeping their independence.

Driving ability can also be affected by drugs such as sleeping medications and tranquilizers; pain- killers; antidepressants; heart, blood pressure, and diabetic medications; and over-the-counter antihistamines. People who believe a medication is making them drowsy or confused should consult a physician. Adjusting the dosage or switching medications may solve the problem.

Drivers with cognitive problems that are caused by Alzheimer's disease or multiple silent strokes can be particularly dangerous drivers "because they tend to deny or hide their disability, leaving it to distraught family members to alert the physician," Lipman said. By the time the doctor is alerted, the patient has usually been involved in at least one minor accident, gotten lost while driving, or driven the wrong way down a one-way street.

Drivers with cognitive impairment may still be competent enough to drive, but their accident rate is comparable to drivers who have been drinking but whose blood alcohol concentrations (BACS) are under the legal limit.

Driver's Education Can Help

Physicians can refer people with mild cognitive problems to a hospital or rehabilitation facility with a driver evaluation program. The individual will then go through a series of tests to measure critical driving skills. As an alternative, these individuals can contact a local driving school to assess his or her skills.

For drivers with dementia, the accident rate increases as the illness progresses. The effect of Alzheimer's disease on drivers can pose a significant traffic safety risk, according to an American Academy of Neurology subcommittee.

This document was last updated on February 25, 2001.

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