Arlington, Virginia – Despite growing numbers on the road, fewer older drivers died in crashes and fewer were involved in fatal collisions during 1997-2006 than in years past, a new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study reports. In the U.S., crash deaths among drivers 70 and older fell 21 per cent during that period, reversing an upward trend even as the population of people 70 and older rose 10 per cent.

Compared with drivers ages 35-54, older drivers experienced much bigger declines in fatal crash involvements. Reasons for the fatality declines aren’t clear, but another new Institute study indicates that older adults increasingly self-limit driving as they age and develop physical and cognitive impairments. Earlier research predicted that older drivers would make up a substantially larger proportion of drivers in fatal crashes, so “the findings are a welcome surprise,” said Anne McCartt, Institute senior vice president for research, and an author of the new studies. “No matter how we looked at the fatal crash data for this age group — whether by miles driven, licensed drivers, or population — the fatal crash involvement rates for drivers 70 and older declined, and did so at a faster pace than the rates for drivers 35-54 years old.”

Compared with drivers ages 20-69, fewer people 70 and older are licensed to drive, and they drive fewer miles per licensed driver. However, older people now hang onto their licenses longer, drive more miles, and make up a bigger proportion of the population than in past years as baby boomers age.

There were more than 20 million licensed drivers 70 and older in 2006, compared with just under 18 million in 1997. The total annual miles these older drivers travelled climbed 29 per cent from 1995 to 2001, compared with a 6 per cent rise among 35-54 year-olds. Per mile travelled, crash rates and fatal crash rates increase starting at age 70 and rise markedly after 80.

Connect with Autos.ca