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In 2018 nearly 20% of licensed drivers in the United States were 65 or older (FHWA, 2020). As drivers age, their physical and mental abilities, driving behaviors, and crash risks all change, though age alone is not determinative of driving performance. Many features of the current system of roads, traffic signals and controls, laws, licensing practices, and vehicles were not designed to accommodate older drivers. Older Americans are increasingly dependent on driving to maintain their mobility, independence, and health. The challenge is to balance mobility for older drivers with safety for all road users.

Trends. From 1982 to 2018 the proportion of licensed drivers 65 and older rose from 11% to 20% and the proportion of these older drivers in fatal crashes rose from 7% to 14%.

People 65 and Older: Number and Proportion of Total Populations


Resident Population

Licensed Drivers

Drivers In Fatal Crashes


























> 20%*



*Projected numbers based on 2017 population estimates

Sources: NHTSA - FARS (1982, 2018); FHWA Highway Statistics (1995, 2020); NCSA (2020); Vespa et al. (2020)

The U.S. population 65 and older increased at a much faster rate (15.1%) than the total population (9.7%) from 2000 to 2010 (Census Bureau, 2014). Between 2010 and 2017, the resident population 65 and older continued to increase at a much higher rate (25.7%) than all other age groups combined (2.2%) (Census Bureau, 2018). By 2030, the Census Bureau estimates that the resident population over 65 will double the 2010 population, to over 73 million, and will comprise 21% of the total U.S. population (Vespa et al., 2020).

The licensed driver population likely will grow even faster. The proportion of people 65 or older who held a driver’s license rose from 63% in 1982 to 86% in 2018 (FHWA, 2020). As of 2018, there were 92.8% of people 65 to 69 who were licensed, as are 91.1% of people 70 to 74, 86.7% of people 75 to 79, 79.2% of people 80 to 84, and 61.5% of people 85 and older (FHWA, 2020). With current life expectancy in this country at 78.6 years on average (CDC, 2017), and with advances in medical science, older Americans are staying mobile and active longer. Those who will reach 65 in the coming decade have been projected to drive more miles and are expected to continue driving later in life than previous generations. This increasingly active and mobile older population gives rise to the need to enhance their safety, and the safety of all road users, while addressing their mobility needs and quality of life.

The licensure rate probably will increase because tomorrow’s older people likely will be healthier and more accustomed to driving than today’s. By 2030, if 85% of older people are licensed, there will be over to 62 million licensed drivers who are at least 65 years old.

Older driver characteristics. Certain changes are often linked to the normal aging process (Potts et al.’s 2004 NCHRP report, Section III; IIHS, 2019).

  • Fragility increases. The same crash force produces more serious injuries to a 70-year-old than to a 20-year-old, and injuries take longer to heal.
  • Drivers’ overall functional abilities decline as their physical, visual, and cognitive capabilities diminish with age. Though at very different rates for different people, physical capabilities including hearing, muscle tone, and reaction time as well as visual capabilities (especially night vision) all decline. Cognitive capabilities can also diminish. Driving is a complex activity that requires a variety of high-level cognitive skills that can diminish through changes that occur with normal aging and/or as a result of dementia. As drivers get older, they tend to be overrepresented in crashes requiring navigation of more complex situations such as intersections, left turns, and reacting to an impending crash (Stutts et al., 2009). That said, mild cognitive decline can still allow for safe driving (Staplin et al., 2019). Overall, tests of functional ability to drive may provide better indicators of driving health. The state of current research on visual scanning ability and availability of training programs for visual scanning skills has been summarized in a recent NHTSA report (Lococo & Staplin, 2018).
  • Many older drivers use medications, with over 90% taking prescription medications (Rosenbloom & Santos, 2014). These medications alone and/or in combination with other medications may be necessary to control disease or health conditions, but also may cause drowsiness or otherwise affect driving.
  • Older drivers are less likely than younger people to drive after drinking or using recreational drugs. While drivers over 70 were overrepresented in several crash types, drivers 60 and older were less likely than younger drivers to be involved in alcohol-related crashes (Stutts et al., 2009).
  • Older drivers are less likely to drive aggressively or to speed. However, they may exhibit other risky behaviors, such as driving more slowly than prevailing traffic or failing to detect or accurately judge the speed of an oncoming vehicle while making a left turn. The most frequent driving errors made by older adults include the failure to yield right-of-way (Mayhew et al., 2006), inadequate surveillance, and misjudgment of gaps (Cicchino & McCartt, 2015). Older adults are more likely to be involved in angle collisions, overtaking- and merging-related collisions, and crashes in intersections (Lombardi et al., 2017).
  • Most older drivers reduce their driving mileage as their lifestyles change. Many older drivers recognize and avoid driving in situations in which they feel uncomfortable, such as at night, on high-speed roads, or in unfamiliar situations (Staplin & Lococo, 2003). Older drivers were underrepresented in nighttime-related crashes, probably due in part to this group’s tendency to avoid or limit driving at night (Stutts et al., 2009). However, such driving avoidance may not always be due to consideration of functional impairments, and can instead arise due to other factors including changes in lifestyle or travel preferences or a reduced need to drive (Molnar et al., 2015).