Older Drivers

Older Drivers

JULY 2014

UP FRONT

  • In 2011, there were 35 million licensed drivers age 65 and over according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

  • 5,560 people age 65 and older were killed and 214,000 were injured in traffic crashes in 2012.

  • In 2012 drivers age 65 and older accounted for 17 percent of all traffic fatalities.

 

THE TOPIC

Older drivers have higher rates of fatal crashes, based on miles driven, than any other group except young drivers, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The high death rate is due in large part to their frailty. Older people are less likely to survive an injury than younger people. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 35 million licensed drivers were age 65 and older in the United States in 2011. By 2020 there will be more than 40 million drivers on the road in this age group. NHTSA says 5,560 people age 65 and older were killed in traffic crashes in 2012. This represents 17 percent of all Americans killed on the road. In addition, 214,000 older individuals were injured in traffic crashes in 2012.

There is a growing need to help older drivers sharpen their skills as well as recognize their changing abilities and adapt their driving practices appropriately. Insurers have partnered with state and local governments, and groups such as AARP, to create programs designed to address these needs. In addition, an increasing number of states routinely attempt to identify, assess and regulate older drivers with diminishing abilities who cannot or will not voluntarily modify their driving habits.

KEY STATISTICS

  • Older drivers involved in fatal crashes had the lowest proportion of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher of any group of drivers, 7 percent in 2012. Twenty-one percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes had a BAC of 0.08 percent or above, according to NHTSA.
  • In 2012, 75 percent of traffic fatalities involving older drivers happened during the day. Sixty-four percent involved another vehicle.

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

  • In February 2014 the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Highway Loss Data Institute (IIHS) released a report showing that older drivers are now less likely to be involved in a crash and less likely to be injured or killed. The institute attributes the improvement to safer vehicles and better senior health. The report, which tracked data from 1995 to 2012, found that drivers age 70 and over had bigger declines in fatal crash rates per licensed drivers and per vehicle miles traveled than middle-aged drivers, ages 35-54. The trend is significant because older drivers have higher rates of fatal crashes, based on miles driven, than any other group except young drivers. Despite the improvement, older drivers continue to have higher rates of fatal crashes than most other age groups.
  • At least two insurers have adopted computer-based training programs for older drivers, which are designed to improve drivers’ useful field of vision—the visual area over which information can be extracted at a single glance. Studies have shown that drivers who have a limited useful field of vision are twice as likely to experience a crash. Although the range of the useful field of vision declines with age, research shows that it can be improved with brain training. In fact, specific training lasting only 10 hours has been shown to produce impressive reductions in driving risk and crashes.
  • The following chart shows how often states require older motorists to renew their drivers licenses. Accelerated or shortened renewal frequencies are listed along with the age that motorists must comply with them. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 28 states and the District of Columbia require older drivers to renew their drivers licenses more often than the rest of the state’s residents. The chart also lists the states that require older motorists to pass particular tests and the age at which they must comply, states that require doctors to report serious medical problems and states that prohibit older drivers from renewing licenses by mail. In addition, many states encourage doctors to report people whom they consider unsafe drivers due to medical problems to the department of motor vehicles, and provide immunity from civil action if the report is made in good faith (See “Physician’s Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers”, American Medical Association.)

 

STATE DRIVERS LICENSE RENEWAL LAWS INCLUDING REQUIREMENTS FOR OLDER DRIVERS

(As of August 2014)

     Renewal for older drivers  Require older drivers to pass tests     
State Length of regular renewal cycle (years) Length (years) Age Age Type of test Require doctors to report medical conditions (1) Age limits on mail or electronic renewal
Alabama 4            
Alaska 5           69
Arizona none before age 65 5 65 65 vision (2)   70
Arkansas 4            
California 5         X (3) 70
Colorado 10 5 61       66
Connecticut 6           65
Delaware 8         X  
D.C. 8     70 vision, medical    
Florida 8 6 80 80 vision    
Georgia 5 or 8 5 60 64 vision X  
Hawaii 8 2 72        
Idaho 4 or 8 4 63        
Illinois 4 2 81 (4) 75 road    
Indiana 6 3 75 (4)       75
Iowa 5 or 8 2 72       70
Kansas 6 4 65        
Kentucky 4            
Louisiana 4*           70
Maine 6 4 65 40 and 62 vision    
Maryland 8     40 vision    
Massachusetts 5           75
Michigan 4            
Minnesota 4            
Mississippi 4 or 8            
Missouri 6 3 70 (4)        
Montana 8 4 75        
Nebraska 5           72
Nevada 4 or 8 4 65 70 medical (2) X  
New Hampshire 5            
New Jersey 4         X  
New Mexico 4 or 8 4 67 (4)        
New York 8            
North Carolina 8 5 66        
North Dakota 6 4 78        
Ohio 4            
Oklahoma 4            
Oregon 8     50 vision X  
Pennsylvania 4         X  
Rhode Island 5 2 75        
South Carolina 10 5 65 65 vision    
South Dakota 5     65 vision (2)    
Tennessee 5            
Texas 6 2 85       79
Utah 5     65 vision X  
Vermont 4            
Virginia 8 5 75** 75** vision   75**
Washington 5            
West Virginia 8**         X  
Wisconsin 8            
Wyoming 4            

(1) Physicians must report physical conditions that might impair driving skills.
(2) If renewing by mail.
(3) Specifically requires doctors to report a diagnosis of dementia.
(4) These states have special renewal requirements for other age groups. Illinois (1 year for drivers 87 and older); Indiana (2 years for drivers 85 and older); Missouri (3 years for drivers age 21 and younger); and New Mexico (1 year for drivers 75 and older).

*6 years effective 7/1/15.
**Effective January 1, 2015.

Note: Specific requirements vary by state; contact state department of motor vehicles for more information.

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

 

 

INVOLVEMENT OF THE OLDER POPULATION IN TRAFFIC FATALITIES, 2003 AND 2012

  2003 2012 Percent change, 2003-2012
  Total Age 65+  Age 65+
percent
of total
Total Age 65 + Age 65+
percent
of total
Total Age 65+
Population (000) 290,108 35,864 12.4% 313,914 43,145 13.3% 8% 20%
Drivers involved in fatal crashes 58,517 6,445 11.0 45,337 5,744 12.7 -23 -11
Driver fatalities 26,779 4,067 15.2 21,394 3,449 16.1 -20 -15
Total traffic fatalities 42,884 6,698 15.6 33,561 5,560 16.6 -22 -17
Occupant fatalities 37,341 5,649 15.1 27,869 4,486 16.1 -25 -21
Pedestrian fatalities 4,774 981 20.5 4,743 935 19.7 -1 -5

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

View Archived Tables

 

 

MOTOR VEHICLE DEATHS PER 100,000 PERSONS BY AGE, 2012

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

View Archived Graphs

 

 

DRIVERS IN MOTOR VEHICLE CRASHES BY AGE, 2012

Age group Number of
licensed drivers
Percent of
total
Drivers in
fatal crashes
Involvement
rate (1)
Drivers in
all crashes
Involvement
rate (1)
Under 16 127,283 0.1% 121 95.06 31,562 24,797
16 to 20 11,954,276 5.6 4,211 35.23 1,245,410 10,418
21 to 24 14,229,278 6.7 4,738 33.30 1,140,942 8,018
25 to 34 36,687,339 17.3 8,950 24.40 2,108,045 5,746
35 to 44 36,527,225 17.2 7,311 20.02 1,683,127 4,608
45 to 54 40,594,647 19.2 7,601 18.72 1,601,892 3,946
55 to 64 35,750,452 16.9 5,899 16.50 1,157,852 3,239
65 to 74 21,733,570 10.3 3,212 14.78 564,736 2,598
Over 74 14,210,760 6.7 2,532 17.82 347,352 2,444
Total 211,814,830 100.0% 45,337 (2) 21.40  9,881,681 (2)  4,665

(1) Per 100,000 licensed drivers.
(2) Includes drivers of unknown age.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Federal Highway Administration.

View Archived Tables

 

BACKGROUND

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that older drivers are keeping their licenses longer and driving more miles than ever before. The high fatality rates of this age group reflect the fact that older drivers are more easily injured than younger people and are more apt to have medical complications and die of those injuries. According to the Governors Highway Safety Administration, impairments in three key areas—vision, cognition and motor function—are responsible for higher crash rates for older drivers. Vision declines with age; cognition, which includes memory and attention, can be impacted by medical problems such as dementia and medication side effects; and motor function suffers as flexibility declines due to diseases such as arthritis.

Licensing Requirements and Restrictions: Some states restrict driving activities for people with certain medical conditions or after a serious accident or traffic violation. Depending on their ability, older drivers may be limited to driving during daylight hours or on nonfreeway types of roads. In most states restrictions such as these can be placed on anyone’s drivers’ license, regardless of age, if his or her medical condition warrants it.

Nine states require doctors to report any dangerous medical conditions that can impair a patient’s driving. Although this requirement covers drivers of all ages and a variety of medical conditions, at least one state—California—specifically requires doctors to report a diagnosis of dementia, which is a common symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. The importance of such requirements was highlighted by a study of accidents in Sweden and Finland, which found that one-third of drivers age 65 to 90 who were killed in crashes had brain lesions commonly found in Alzheimer’s patients, and another 20 percent had lesions that may indicate an early form of the disease.

Ten states currently require older drivers to take vision tests at license renewal (see chart). According to University of Baltimore and the Johns Hopkins University research reported in 1995, in the 38 states that mandated vision tests for license renewals at the time of the study, drivers age 70 or older were involved in 17.2 fatal accidents per 100,000 older drivers. In states where no testing was required, the ratio was 18.7 fatal crashes. Researchers characterized the difference as small but significant, especially since the number of 70 and older drivers was expected to grow substantially. A handful of states mandate other testing for older drivers at license renewal. For instance, in Illinois drivers over age 75 must take a road test when they renew their license. Ten states mandate that older drivers must renew their licenses in person; ages at which this takes effect vary from 65 years of age to 79.

Insurance Discounts: According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, as of February 2013, 34 states and the District of Columbia mandated premium discounts for older adults. All but Massachusetts require older drivers (usually age 55 and over) to complete an approved-accident prevention course. In addition, 12 states mandate discounts to all drivers (including older drivers) who take defensive driving or other drivers’ education courses. In general, the state-mandated discounts apply to liability coverages because they are most relevant. The regulations can vary by state. For instance in Massachusetts the older adult discount applies to all coverages for drivers over the age of 65.

In addition, some insurance companies offer discounts in the states in which they do business for drivers who complete defensive driving or other approved courses, including discounts for seniors who take AARP courses.

National websites of interest include:

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