According to the CDC, every day in the U.S. around 20 adults over the age of 65 are killed in motor vehicle crashes, and nearly 800 are injured. Involvement in fatal crashes increases among drivers ages 70 – 74 and is the highest among drivers 85 years and older who are more susceptible to injury.
With almost 42 million licensed older drivers in 2016 – a 56% increase from 1999 – the U.S. faces an increasing public health challenge. Driving helps keep seniors connected to services and their communities. However, their driving abilities can be affected by age-related declines in vision and cognitive functions, such as the reasoning and memory.
The good news: Older drivers are more likely to wear a seat belt and less likely to drive while impaired. They also tend to limit driving in bad weather, at night, and on high-speed roads—when conditions are less favorable.
The UI IPRC conducts research in partnership with state agencies like the Iowa Department of Transportation Office of Driver Services and the Iowa Department of Human Rights to identify which older adults are at risk for a motor vehicle crash and how to best transition older adults into driving cessation.
Here is some of our older driver research:
1) We linked motor vehicle crash data of Iowans over 50 years old who were involved in a crash with data on traffic-related charges among this age group. We found that older adults who experienced a traffic-related charge in the 30 days before a crash had a 21% increase of crashing. In the 30 days after receiving a citation, they also had an increased risk of crashing during bad weather or during evening, night and early hours. This helps us identify periods of driving that may be good points for educational or policy interventions.
2) We evaluated a unique dataset launched in Iowa. The Enhanced Medical Referral and Evaluation Management System (EMREMS) is the nation’s first to track all aspects of the medical review process for licensing. The analysis showed the majority of adults over age 70 were referred for license review by the Department of Motor Vehicles staff. Others were referred by law enforcement (8%) and physicians (2%), and for being in a motor vehicle crash (17%). We found that a driver medical referral from law enforcement or a physician was more likely to result in revocation of a driving license than referrals coming from other sources.
3) We are studying what patient characteristics and medical conditions (like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, diabetes, stroke, mild cognitive impairment, & vision related conditions) are associated with an increased chance of motor vehicle crashes or traffic conviction history. Ultimately, what we learn could help medical professionals more accurately identify older drivers who are not medically fit-to-drive. Likewise, our research could help doctors better recognize those who can remain driving safely.
4) We are evaluating the effectiveness of cognitive screening tests used by the Iowa licensing agencies. We will examine how well these tests identify drivers who fail road tests, have their license suspended, or have a history of poor driving such as a crash or traffic conviction. We will determine which medical diagnoses and screening tests increase the risk of a driver losing their driving privileges.
Older farm equipment operators
UI IPRC pilot grant recipient and PhD candidate Kayla Faust is using a new desktop tractor simulator to study how risk factors related to age may increase the risk of crashes while operating farm equipment. Tractor-related fatalities are the leading cause of agricultural deaths and the average age of a farmer is around 58 years old. Certain medical diagnoses and medication use may increase their risk of a crash.
See the CDC’s steps to stay safe on the road.
Published on 2/25/19