Better with Age: More Over-70 Drivers Take the Wheel

Between 2006 and 2016, the number of licensed drivers age 65 or older increased by 38% to 41.7 million, according to TRIP, a national transportation research group.

Although many would assume that more geriatric drivers out on the road translates to more accidents, more deaths and more auto claims, that hasn’t been the case so far.

“We’ve seen that fewer older drivers are involved in the most serious crashes, especially the fatal crashes,” says Jessica Cicchino, vice president for research, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). “It seems they’re safer than they used to be.”

In 2015, 6,165 people age 65 and older were killed in traffic crashes, accounting for 18% of all traffic fatalities that year, according to the Insurance Information Institute’s 2018 Fact Book. The following year, the situation improved in an even older demographic.

In 2016, a total of 4,792 people ages 70 and older died in motor vehicle crashes—18% fewer than in 1997, according to IIHS research. Moreover, since 1975, the overall rate of fatalities per capita among older people has decreased 43%.

One reason for the improvement is that today’s older people are “healthier and in better shape” than previous generations, Cicchino says. “They’re less likely to get into crashes and they’re less likely to be seriously injured or killed when they are involved in a crash.”

Additionally, recognizing the need for older drivers to retain mobility and independence, some states have introduced laws where licensees over a certain age must renew their license in person or at shorter intervals than other drivers. Others have placed restrictions on driving at night when conditions are statistically more dangerous.

Finally, modern cars are simply built safer. “One thing we found that was especially helpful for older drivers were things like rearview cameras and parking cameras. We’ve seen that they reduce crashes for older drivers,” Cicchino says.

With an aging population growing in number, will overall collision claims frequency increase? Not according to the Highway Loss Data Institute, the sister organization of IIHS.

“They found that even though the proportion of older drivers is going to be higher, we don’t think it’s going to affect frequency overall,” Cicchino says. “Younger people have even higher collision claim frequencies, so they would balance each other out.”

Will Jones is IA assistant editor.