Elderly Driving Statistics to Know: Staying Safe on the Road

Updated April 6, 2021
Couple driving in convertible

Elderly drivers sometimes get a bad rap, but is the reputation backed up by statistics? In 2015, there were 40.1 million licensed elderly drivers in the United States. Look at elderly driving facts to learn what statistics say about the risks elderly drivers face.

Statistics About Seniors and Accidents

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of licensed senior drivers increased by 60% from 2000 to 2018. On average, drivers age 70 and older drive 45% fewer miles than drivers ages 35 to 54. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that drivers, ages 70 or older, travel more as their yearly mileage increased by 42% from 1996 to 2008.

Seniors and Fatal Accidents

As your loved one ages, he/she may experience increased visual, mobility, and memory impairments. Fourteen percent of Americans ages 71+ have some form of dementia; Alzheimer's disease affects a third of the population 85+. Prescription medications, which often come with a bevy of side effects, can also impair driving. One study found that some 30% of seniors took more than five prescription medications per day. These impairments, along with others, may greatly impact his/her driving abilities or his ability to react to dangerous situations.

  • The CDC reports older men have a higher death rate from car crashes as compared to women.
  • Studies also indicate fatal crashes-per-miles-traveled increased for individuals ages 70 to 74. This number of fatal crashes-per-miles-traveled is highest among drivers ages 85 years or older.
  • Older drivers, especially those over 75, have higher crash death rates compared to middle-aged drivers. This is primarily due to increased vulnerability to injury in a crash for older victims.
  • Multiple-vehicle crashes accounted for 40% of fatal accidents in drivers age 80 and older compared to 20 percent of drivers ages 16 to 59.

While driving seniors are still at a general risk for fatal accidents, recent data illustrates a declining trend in fatalities. Older drivers have been involved in fewer fatal collisions than in past years. 5,195 people ages 70 and older perished in crashes in 2019. This was a 12% decrease compared to 1997. Senior deaths resulting from car accidents might be on a decline, but the risk factors surrounding the elderly on the road persist.

Accidents With Pedestrians Involved

Because drivers share the road with pedestrians and cyclists, it is essential a driver is alert and aware of her surroundings. Failing vision or driving during difficult road conditions, such as bad weather or during rush hour, can put older drivers at higher risk for pedestrian-involved accidents or death. A 2015 survey by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported seniors, ages 85 years and older, had the highest pedestrian death rate (4.4 per 100,000).

Distracted Driving

It's no surprise, cell phones or internet use while driving can cause someone to become distracted behind the wheel. In a 2014 survey, the AAA reported that more than half of drivers ages 65 to 69 reported talking on the phone while driving at least once in the past month, and 12% of these drivers did so regularly. However, drivers age 70 and older were less likely to engage in this dangerous behavior. Regardless of your age, freeing yourself from any distractions while driving is a key way to ensure your own safety as well as the safety of others.

Senior Safety Behind the Wheel

Not all statistics on senior driving paint such a grim picture. Generally, seniors are more likely to participate in car safety strategies such as using seat belts and avoid not drinking and driving.

Incidence of Seat Belt Use

Most drivers in the United States wear seat belts. This is particularly true for the senior population. The 2014 survey by the AAA revealed that only 18% of drivers ages 65 to 69, 16% of drivers ages 70 to 74, and 25% of drivers age 75 or older reported driving without a seat belt in the past 30 days.

The CDC also reports that 60% of passengers ages 65 to 74 and almost two-thirds (69%) of vehicle passengers 75 years or older were wearing seat belts at the time of their crash compared to 38% of passengers ages 21 to 24.

Impaired Driving

Whether it's caused by excessive alcohol intake or driving under the influence of street or legal narcotics, impaired driving is dangerous and is responsible for many bodily injuries and traffic fatalities each year. The CDC reports that approximately one-third of all traffic accidents in the United States involve drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 g/dL or higher. Fortunately, older adult drivers are less likely to drive impaired when compared to other age groups. The AAA reports only 6% of drivers, ages 75 years or older, involved in fatal crashes had a BAC of 0.08 g/dL or higher.

Monitor Their Driving Throughout Times of Day

The elderly are more choosy regarding when they take to the road. They tend to steer clear of the roadways during common times of heavy traffic; they prefer not to drive in the nighttime and are less common drivers on highways.

Driving Provisions

Many seniors may have outlived their ability to operate a car safely and as a result, many states have implemented special provisions for older drivers to renew their driver's license. The provision requiring drivers ages 75 years and older to renew their license in person and pass a medical screening was supported by 70% of drivers 65 and older.

The senior license renewal requirements vary by state. Some examples of special provisions that have been implemented include:

  • More frequent renewals
  • Restricting online or mailed renewals
  • Completing vision test
  • Participating in a road test
  • Reduced or waived renewal fees

Elderly Driver Stats

Operating a car safely requires sharp physical and cognitive abilities, driving skills, and safe driving behaviors. Assess your loved one's ability to remain safe behind the wheel and have an open and honest conversation about driving and their privileges.

Elderly Driving Statistics to Know: Staying Safe on the Road