Drivers 75 and older are about 4 times as likely to die as middle-aged drivers when they’re involved in a side-impact crash and about 3 times as likely to die in a frontal crash, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Now, two new studies explore the reasons why this is the case.
Both studies indicate that drivers 70 and over tend to drive older, smaller vehicles that are not equipped with important safety features — increasing the crash fatality risk for this demographic of motorists, according to IIHS.
For example, one study compared the vehicles driven by 1.5 million crash-involved Florida drivers ages 35-54 and 70 and older over the span of four years — from 2014 to 2018. The findings show that drivers 70 and up were significantly more likely to be driving vehicles that were at least 16 years old as opposed to the younger drivers who drove newer car models.
The older drivers were also much less likely to be driving vehicles less than 3 years old.
Noteworthy, too, as driver age increased, vehicles were less likely to be equipped with electronic stability control (ESC) — making drivers 70 years and older an alarming 37% more likely to die should they get into a collision. Many older vehicles also do not come equipped with standard head-protecting side airbags and these were associated with double the odds of an older driver fatality.
By comparing the average fatality risk for the vehicles driven by drivers age 70 and older and drivers ages 35-54, the researchers determined that crash fatalities could be reduced by 3% for drivers 70 and older and 5% for drivers 80 and older if they drove vehicles with the same safety profile as their middle-aged counterparts.
That translates into an estimated 90 lives saved every year.
The second study surveyed 900 drivers in the same two age groups from various states about the factors that influenced their most recent vehicle purchase.
Drivers 70 and older were less likely than middle-aged drivers to have required ESC, blind spot monitoring, side or curtain airbags, and forward collision warning or automatic emergency braking (AEB).
Specifically, only about 25% of older drivers said they required AEB, compared with 40% of middle-aged drivers.
Experts believe that one reason older drivers have less safe vehicles is that they don’t understand the value of advanced safety features or good safety ratings, the survey showed.
For example, about 10% of older drivers said that safety ratings are not at all important, compared with 4% of middle-aged drivers. Moreover, fewer older than middle-aged drivers ranked safety ratings as extremely important in their purchase decision.