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  • Posted 4 Nov, 2020


Crash Rates Drop For 70-Something Drivers

Tanya Mohn



Finally, there is some good news for older adults who get behind the wheel: drivers in their 70s are now less likely to be involved in a fatal crash — and have fewer police-reported crashes of all severities — than middle-aged drivers. 

“That’s a remarkable reversal for a generation of drivers once thought to be an outsize threat to themselves and others on the road,” the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a non-profit financed by the insurance industry,  said in a statement when it released its new study earlier this month.

For the report, researchers compared trends among drivers 70 and over with drivers ages 35-54, examining crash involvements based on several criteria: the number of licensed drivers, how many vehicle miles were traveled, and police reports. 

The fact that crash rates have fallen for drivers in their 70s is a significant development, the safety group said, as historically, older drivers were more likely to crash than other age groups, and less likely to survive if a crash did occur. The report’s findings are particularly encouraging, it said, given the rapid growth in the number of older drivers over the past two decades.

“Although efforts to address the ‘silver tsunami’ were largely ad hoc, in hindsight what we ended up with was a systems approach,” David Harkey, the Insurance Institute’s president, said in a statement. “And it worked.” 


Among the factors credited with helping to prevent a spike in crashes are: better health, safer vehicles, safety innovations like side airbags,  interventions like changes to licensing policies, and  widespread infrastructure improvements designed to address common problems faced by older drivers, like making traffic signs easier to see and converting intersections to roundabouts.

In addition, the economy is thought to be a contributing factor. Crash fatalities often drop during recessions and rise with a strong economy, and the impact is often greater for middle-aged drivers than for drivers in their 70s.

Also, speeding and alcohol-impaired driving typically decrease during recessions and increase during times of economic growth. “This might have widened the difference between older and middle-aged drivers, since older drivers engage in these risky behaviors less frequently,” the report noted.

The number of older licensed drivers rose almost twice as fast from 2010 to 2018 as it had in the previous decade, and older drivers also drove more.

A graphic shows licensed drivers over 70 and fatal crashes by age group, from 1997 to 2018.


“Improvements in healthcare mean that older Americans are remaining active and staying in the workforce,” Jessica Cicchino, the Insurance Institiute’s vice president for research and a co-author of the study, said in a statement. “It follows that they’re not only keeping their licenses longer but also driving more miles.”

Seniors who are in better shape are also more likely to survive if they do crash, the report stated, however, they tend to hold onto their vehicles longer, so it takes more time for them to reap the benefits of safety advancements, the report stated.

“That means we’re likely to see survival rates continue to improve as these advancements work their way into the U.S. fleet,” Cicchino added.

To learn more about the study, click here and here.