Elderly Car Crash Deaths Down in Last Decade

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By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter
Friday, January 23, 2009; 12:00 AM

FRIDAY, Jan. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Elderly drivers are safer drivers than they were a decade ago, a new study suggests.

Crash fatalities among drivers over the age of 70 fell 21 percent between 1997 and 2006, the researchers reported, despite a 10 percent rise in the number of those in this age group. Although the number of younger drivers (between 35 and 54) involved in fatal accidents is also on the downswing, the study authors noted the drop in driving death risk among those over 70 is significantly greater.

"Given the fact that the population of older drivers 70 and up has gone up, and that older drivers are staying licensed longer and driving more miles, you would normally expect to see more fatal crashes," observed study co-author Anne T. McCartt, senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), in Arlington, Va. "But we're actually seeing the opposite. The number of older drivers being killed in crashes has gone down, and the fatality rate is dropping at a faster pace than for younger drivers."

The findings were published in the December issue of the IIHS journal Status Report.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 37 million Americans are currently aged 65 and up. This group constitutes the fastest-growing age bracket in the country.

To gauge how population trends translate into road fatalities, McCartt and her team crunched numbers on car crashes deaths between 1997 and 2006 that had been collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

The data referenced all fatal crashes on public roads that resulted in the death of a driver or passengers within 30 days of an accident.

The authors found that more and more elderly individuals over 70 are getting behind the wheel, rising from about 18 million in 1997 to more than 20 million by 2006.

The over-70 set are also driving more. Between 1995 and 2001 alone, the miles they traveled increased by 29 percent.

Nevertheless, the research team found a reversal of a prior trend toward an increasing risk for death on the road among the elderly, noting that between 1975 and 1997, there had been a 56 percent climb in over-70 crash deaths. Between 1997 and 2001, however, fatal crash involvement among those aged 70 to 74 dropped by 26 percent. Those aged 75 to 79 experienced a 19 percent drop, while drivers over 80 experienced a 6 percent decline.

Specifically among elderly passengers, McCartt and her colleagues also found that a 106 percent rise in car crash deaths during the pre-1997 period had rolled over into a 23 percent drop during the study period.

By contrast, fatal crash involvement among the 35 to 54 set dropped by just 2 percent, while the drop among all drivers logged in at 4 percent.


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