Elderly U.S. drivers are less likely to be involved, injured or killed in automobile accidents compared to prior generations, mostly because they are healthier and drive safer vehicles, according to the results of a new study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Fatal crash rates among drivers aged 70 and older since 1997 have declined faster than crash rates among middle-age drivers — those aged 35 to 54 — though the pace of the declines appear to be tapering off, IIHS said in the study, released Thursday.
“This should help ease fears that aging baby boomers are a safety threat,” said Anne McCartt, the Institute’s senior vice president for research and a co-author of the study, in a statement. “Even crashes among the oldest drivers have been on a downswing.”
Researchers for years has been concerned that elderly drivers would cause an upswing in auto accidents, but recent studies, including the recent IIHS study, has shown otherwise.
The findings are particularly important because the number of Americans aged 70 and older is expected to more than double, from 29 million to 64 million, by 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The age group made up of those aged 80 and older will triple, from 12 million to 31 million, during the same period.
From 1997 to 2012, the nation’s population of adults 70 and older rose 19 percent, and data from the Federal Highway Administration show older Americans are also driving more miles per year.
But the number of annual driving-related deaths for that age group fell 31 percent.
Safer vehicles brought on by stricter crash-safety tests and more stringent federal safety standards also helped reduce the rate in which older Americans die from auto accidents.
In 1997, a person aged 70 or older was 3.5 times more likely to die in an auto accident than someone defined as middle-age. By 2008, that rate had fallen to 3.2 times more likely. For a person aged 80 or older, it fell from 5.4 times more likely to 4.3 times more likely during the same period.