Research In Action

Research In Action

older driver research
Beyond Teen Driver Safety Research

I have spent the past few years working with Dr. Allison E. Curry’s research team at CIRP to better understand licensing and crash rates among young drivers. Now, this research is expanding to include studying factors that influence mobility as we age and the ability to maintain independence, including how many adults maintain their driver’s licenses and experience crashes.

The majority of past studies that looked at crash rates did not take into account changes in licensing as older adults age, and updated statistics are needed to describe population-based rates of older drivers’ licensing and per-driver rates of crashes and moving violations. A new study we recently published in the Journal of Safety Research begins to fill in this research gap.

This paper provides a description of licensing proportions, crash rates, and rates of moving violations among older drivers in New Jersey between 2010 and 2014. We explore the rates among older drivers (ages 65+) within 5-year age groups and also compare them to rates among middle aged (35-54) drivers.

What we found is that although the majority of adults (ages 65 years and older) are licensed (86 percent of males and 71 percent of females), there’s substantial variation by age and sex. The crash rate for older drivers (ages 65+) was 27 percent less than middle-aged drivers (ages 35 to 54 years) with appreciable differences by sex; but, older drivers had 40 percent higher fatal crash rates than middle-aged drivers. Older drivers also followed the rules of the road dramatically more often than middle-aged drivers: Moving violation rates among older drivers were 72 percent lower than middle-aged drivers.

We were able to perform this analysis by utilizing the New Jersey Safety and Health Outcomes (NJ-SHO) Data Warehouse, a unique resource that Dr. Curry and her CIRP colleagues developed to robustly investigate transportation issues. We combined this data warehouse with census data to both derive population-level licensing rates, as well as the number of crashes per licensed drivers. Given the level of detail available in NJ-SHO, we used individual level, monthly licensing, and crash data to get precise estimates for the entire state of NJ.

More Research Needed

Future research is needed to understand the extent to which older adults drive and to identify other factors, including in-vehicle safety technology, that influence risk of crash involvement and survivability. For example, are low licensing rates among older women due to health issues, including disability? Are high licensing rates among older adults living in rural areas tied to less public transportation options than those living in urban areas?

We plan to use the NJ-SHO Data Warehouse to help answer these questions and more around safe mobility as we age and health equity for all. We’re also excited about using the data warehouse to explore longitudinal aspects of licensing and crashes over time to better understand characteristics of older adults who are at high risk of crashing. We also will be using the resource to explore how a person's address and vehicle type impact his or her crash risk.