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Changing vehicles to reduce older driver fatalities: an effective approach?

Cox, Aimee E. / Cicchino, Jessica B. / Teoh, Eric R.
Journal of Safety Research
December 2022

Introduction: Age-related frailty leaves older drivers with the greatest fatality risk when involved in a crash compared with younger demographics. This study explored how vehicle features differed between crash-involved older and middle-aged drivers and estimated how those differences contribute to excess older driver fatalities.
Methods: We merged Florida’s crash data from 2014–2018 with Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Highway Loss Data Institute databases. We compared the distribution of passenger vehicle age, type, size, and safety features among crash-involved older drivers (ages 70 and older) with crash-involved middle-aged drivers (ages 35–54). From logistic regression models, we estimated declines in older driver fatalities if they drove vehicles like those driven by middle-aged drivers under all and side-impact crash scenarios.
Results: Older drivers in crashes were more likely to be in vehicles that were lighter, older, and without standard electronic stability control, standard head-protecting side airbags, and ratings of good in two IIHS crash tests than middle-aged drivers. In adjusted models, the fatality risk for older drivers in all crashes was significantly higher when ESC was not standard (odds ratio [OR], 1.37; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.12–1.68) or when driving small passenger cars relative to large SUVs (OR, 2.02; 95% CI, 1.25–3.26); in driver-side crashes, the fatality risk doubled when vehicles did not have standard head-protecting side airbags (OR, 2.03; 95% CI, 1.58–2.62). If older drivers drove vehicles similar to middle-aged drivers, we estimated 3.3% and 4.7% fewer deaths in all and side-impact crashes, respectively.
Conclusions: These results contribute to evidence suggesting that newer, more crashworthy vehicles with crash mitigation features benefit older drivers because of their heightened risk of crash-related fatality. Practical application: At a minimum, older drivers should aim to drive equipped vehicles with widely available features proven to reduce fatalities.
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