Americans 65 years of age and older are 21% more likely to be killed in a traffic accident than the population as a whole. While people of this age group account for 14.5% of the total population, they represent 17.5% of all traffic fatalities.
The difference between the likelihood of traffic fatalities among older Americans and the entire population varies between states. To determine where driving is the most dangerous for seniors, 24/7 Wall St. compared traffic fatality data for state residents 65 years and older to that of the state’s entire population. The states with the widest gaps in fatality rates between these age groups were considered the most dangerous states to drive for seniors.
The most dangerous state for older Americans is Rhode Island, where seniors are 2.2 times more likely to die in a traffic accident than the overall state population. By contrast, seniors in New Mexico are 38% less likely than the state’s total population to die in a traffic accident, the safest state for seniors in the nation.
States with the highest overall rates of traffic fatalities — including drivers, passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians — are not necessarily the states that are the most dangerous for senior drivers. Instead, the most dangerous states for Americans 65 and older are states with the highest share of residents 85 and older.
> Traffic fatality risk for elderly vs. total pop.: 14.7% more likely
> Traffic fatalities, 65 and older: 15.1 per 100,000 (17th highest)
> Traffic fatalities, total pop.: 13.1 per 100,000 (16th highest)
> Pct. pop. 85 and older: 1.3% (tied-5th lowest)
Age-related vision and cognitive declines, which worsen with age, can impair driving capabilities. However, this is not the main contributor to seniors having a higher traffic fatality rate than younger individuals.
The main contributor is the susceptibility of seniors to injury and medical complications when involved in an accident. Drivers who are 80-84 year olds, for example, tend to be involved in the same number of accidents as 25-29 year olds. Yet, the 80-84 year old drivers are nearly three times as likely to die from those accidents.
Because the risk of dying from an accident increases as a senior ages, the share of 85 and older residents is one predictor of a state’s elderly car accident death rate. Rhode Island, for example, where elderly residents are more than twice as likely as the whole population to die in a car accident, is tied for the largest share of residents 85 and older in the nation. In Alaska, on the other hand, seniors are considerably less likely to die in a traffic accident than the total population. This may be partially due to the fact that only 0.8% of Alaska’s population is 85 and older, the lowest share of any state.
To identify the states where driving is the most dangerous for seniors, 24/7 Wall St. compared traffic fatality rates for residents 65 and older and for the entire state population. Data for these rates are from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and are as of 2014, the most current available. Populations by age are from the 2014 American Consumer Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau.