Executive Summary

Today’s older Americans enjoy a level of mobility and an active lifestyle that far outpaces previous generations. Demographic trends indicate that the number and proportion of older Americans have increased dramatically in recent years and will continue to do so. The provision of transportation improvements that will make it easier for older American’s to maintain their mobility will benefit users of all ages. And anticipated developments in self-driving and connected vehicles have the potential to provide older Americans with additional mobility options in the future.

As the number and proportion of older drivers increases, roadway safety improvements designed to make it easier for older drivers to navigate traffic are becoming increasingly important, as older Americans grapple with the effects of aging while trying to maintain a level of mobility that matches their active lifestyle.

This report explores mobility and safety issues for older Americans and presents a set of recommendations for implementing a transportation system that can better serve the safety and mobility needs of older Americans and the population at large.

older American demographics

Older Americans form a significant proportion of the overall population and a rapidly increasing number and share of licensed drivers. The number and proportion of older Americans is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years.

  • An estimated 46 million Americans are 65 or older, accounting for 15 percent of the total population. By 2060, the number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double to over 98 million, and the proportion of the total population over 65 will rise to nearly 24 percent.
  • The number and proportion of licensed drivers 65 or older has surged in the last decade. From 2006 to 2016, the number of licensed drivers 65 or older has increased 38 percent – from 30.1 million in 2006 to 41.7 million in 2016. The proportion of licensed drivers 65 or older has risen from 15 percent in 2006 to 17 percent in 2012 to 19 percent in 2016.
  • The number of all licensed drivers in the U.S. increased by nine percent from 2006 to 2016 from 202.8 million to 221.7 million and the number of licensed drivers less than 65 increased by four percent from 2006 to 2016 from 172.7 million to 180 million.
  • The number of licensed drivers who are 65 or older increased by 16 percent from 2012 to 2016.
  • The number of all licensed drivers increased by five percent from 2012 to 2016 and the number of licensed drivers less than 65 increased by two percent from 2012 to 2016.
  • California, Florida, Texas, New York and Pennsylvania lead the nation in the number of licensed drivers 65 and older. West Virginia, Florida, Maine, Vermont and Arkansas lead the nation in the proportion of licensed drivers who are 65 years or older. Louisiana, Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee and Hawaii have seen the greatest increases in the number of licensed drivers in the last five years. The chart below details the 20 states with the highest number of licensed drivers 65 and older, the highest proportion of licensed drivers 65 and older, and the states with the largest increase in the number of licensed drivers 65 and older from 2012 to 2016. Data for all 50 states can be found in the appendix.


The number of older drivers killed or involved in fatal crashes has increased significantly in the last five years, partly due to the increasing number of older drivers and the larger share of drivers who are 65 and older.

  • From 2012 to 2016, there was a 22 percent increase in the number of fatalities in crashes involving at least one driver 65 or older. The number of drivers 65 or older killed in crashes increased 21 percent from 2012 to 2016. Data for all 50 states, as well as a comparison to 2012, can be found in the appendix.
  • The overall number of traffic fatalities in the U.S. increased 11 percent from 2012 to 2016, from 33,782 to 37,461 fatalities.
  • The chart below details the 20 states with the highest number of traffic fatalities in crashes involving at least one driver age 65 or older in 2016, as well as the states with the highest proportion of fatalities in crashes involving at least one driver 65 or older.


  • The chart below details the 20 states with the greatest increase between 2012 and 2016 in the number of fatalities in crashes involving at least one driver 65 or older. Nationwide, fatalities in crashes involving at least one driver 65 or older increased 22 percent from 2012 to 2016.

  • The chart below details the 20 states with the highest number of drivers 65 and older killed in traffic crashes in 2016. Data for all 50 states, as well as a comparison to 2012, can be found in the appendix.


Older Americans are more mobile and active than ever and want to maintain that lifestyle for as long as possible. Private vehicles remain the overwhelming transportation mode of choice for older Americans. The level of mobility enjoyed by older Americans is closely tied to their quality of life.

  • For those 65 and older, 90 percent of travel takes place in a private vehicle, and for Americans 85 and older, 80 percent of travel occurs in a private vehicle.
  • The majority of older Americans – 79 percent- tend to live in car-dependent suburban and rural communities, which typically require frequent, longer distance trips by automobile.      Because they tend to limit their driving to non-peak hours (typically 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.), older drivers are disproportionately affected by growing levels of congestion. Their window of opportunity for travel narrows considerably as morning and evening rush hours become longer and midday congestion continues to grow.
  • Many older drivers report self-regulating their driving by traveling only on familiar routes during daylight hours, avoiding left turns and sticking to less complex roads with lower traffic volumes during off-peak travel times.
  • More than 600,000 people aged 70 or older stop driving each year and become dependent on others to meet their transportation needs. Men typically outlive their driving days by seven years and women by ten years.
  • Compared with older drivers, older non-drivers in the U.S. make 15 percent fewer trips to the doctor, 59 percent fewer shopping trips and restaurant trips, and 65 percent fewer trips for social, family and religious activities.


Certain situations and driving environments can be especially challenging or hazardous for older motorists. The higher instance of fatalities among older drivers is largely attributable to the physical fragility that makes surviving a crash less likely than younger drivers.

  • Beginning at age 65, the primary danger facing older drivers is their physical fragility, making older drivers much more likely to die when they do crash.
  • Compared to experienced middle-aged drivers, research has found that 60-95 percent of the elevated fatality rates per mile driven for older drivers can be attributed to the fragility that makes surviving a crash more difficult. By comparison, for drivers younger than 20, over-involvement in crashes accounts for more than 95 percent of their excess fatality rates compared with middle-aged drivers.
  • On average, drivers in their mid- to late-eighties have lower crash rates per miles driven than drivers in their early twenties, and roughly half the crash rates of teenagers.
  • In the face of elevated risks, older drivers tend to be very responsible on the road, with a higher rate of seatbelt use than younger drivers, greater avoidance of higher-risk driving environments (such as at night or in rain), and a lower likelihood to drink and drive or be otherwise impaired.
  • As people age, their eyesight, reaction time, cognitive ability and muscle dexterity may deteriorate, often making the tasks associated with driving more difficult. Aging may also limit a body’s range of motion, making it more difficult to scan all directions for nearby vehicles or potential hazards. 
  • According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2016, 37 percent of all fatal crashes where at least one driver was aged 65 or older occurred at an intersection or were related to an intersection. However, for fatal crashes where no driver was aged 65 or older, only 20 percent were at an intersection or intersection related.
  • In 2015 74 percent of traffic fatalities in crashes involving older drivers occurred during the daytime, 70 percent occurred on weekdays, and 67 percent involved other vehicles. This is compared to all fatalities in 2015, where 49 percent occurred during the daytime, 59 percent on weekdays, and 44 percent involved another vehicle
  • Left-hand turns are more problematic for older drivers, as they must make speed, distance and gap judgments simultaneously to enter or cross the through roadway.
  • Deteriorated vision among older drivers may make small or complex road signage difficult to process. Signs may be misunderstood or not seen quickly enough to caution older drivers about upcoming exits, obstacles or changes in traffic patterns. The amount of light needed by drivers doubles every 13 years, starting at age 20. A 72-year-old needs 16 times the amount of light required by a 20-year-old to drive safely.


Older drivers who decide to give up the keys still have options available for maintaining their mobility, though some may come with challenges or drawbacks. Advancements in self-driving and connected vehicle technology may eventually allow older Americans to retain the convenience of private vehicle travel after they are no longer able to drive.


  • While public transit offers an alternative to driving, for older Americans, public transit accounts for just two percent of trips.
  • Older Americans may be reluctant to use transit options because they may have difficulty getting from home to the transit pick-up, or from the transit drop off to their ultimate destination. Crowding, long waits and the physical challenges of boarding a bus may also deter older travelers from using available transit options.
  • A significant proportion of older Americans live in rural areas, where transit options may not be readily available. Seventy percent of Americans over fifty live where transit does not exist or serves the area very poorly.
  • Transit systems can be improved to better accommodate older Americans as well as the population at large. These improvements include expanded bus routes; transit vehicles, stops or facilities that better accommodate older or physically challenged passengers; and, additional non-traditional and private sector approaches to transit, including formal and informal ridesharing and taxi services.


  • Ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft can help older Americans maintain their mobility if they are no longer driving. Ridesharing services allow a passenger to use a smartphone app to set a specific pick-up and drop-off point for their trip and summon a private vehicle driven by its owner to complete the trip. However, ride-sharing services often require the use of smartphones, yet less than one -third of Americans over age 65 own a smartphone.
  • Ride-sharing services may not be available or may be limited in rural areas, where many older Americans live.


  • Advances in automotive technology include self-driving vehicles, which do not require the driver to be in control of the vehicle, and connected vehicles, which recognize potential collision situations and allow for crash avoidance through communication between nearby vehicles.
  • Approximately 94 percent of crashes involve human error. Advanced vehicle technology can be of particular assistance to older drivers as it addresses the deficits that may impact motorists as they age. These include identifying vehicles or objects in blind spots, intersection navigation, left turn assist, early warning when vehicles ahead slow or brake suddenly, or warnings when it is not safe to change lanes or pass another vehicle. While these technologies can provide warnings that help drivers avoid a collision, they may also increase distractions behind the wheel.
  • For those who have completely stopped driving, self-driving vehicles may offer the ability to regain their mobility in a private vehicle. However, the timeline for the widespread use of self-driving and connected vehicles is uncertain, and their adoption by older drivers may be slower than that of the general population.
  • In addition to the long timeframe for potential widespread adoption of self-driving vehicles, other uncertainties about the technology still exist, including: the relatively early stage of research and deployment of self-driving technology outside tightly controlled environments, questions about human interactions with the technology, and the potential detriment of overreliance on self-driving technology.
  • While widespread use and adoption of self-driving vehicles may not happen in the near future, many vehicles are already equipped with technological features that are found in self-driving cars. These include adaptive cruise control and headlights; backup and parking assist; blind spot, forward collision and lane departure warning systems; navigation assistance; and integrated Bluetooth capabilities for cell phones. Research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that nearly 60 percent of older drivers surveyed had at least one advanced technology in their primary vehicle.


The following set of recommendations can improve the mobility and safety of older Americans. These improvements will also improve mobility and safety for all motorists.


  • Clearer, brighter and simpler signage with larger lettering, including overhead indicators for turning lanes and overhead street signs. This should include minimum levels of retroreflectivity.
  • Brighter street lighting, particularly at intersections, and bright, retroreflective pavement markings. Studies also show that increasing the width of pavement markings from 4 inches to 6 inches helps with decreasing lane departure and crashes, especially with older drivers.
  • Where appropriate, widening or adding left-turn lanes and increasing the length of merge or exit lanes.
  • Where appropriate, replacing intersections with roundabouts can eliminate left turns and slow the speed of traffic through an intersection, both of which address common challenges among older drivers.
  • Where appropriate, widening lanes and shoulders to reduce the consequence of driving mistakes.
  • Adding rumble strips to warn motorists when they are leaving the roadway.
  • Making roadway curves more gradual and easier to navigate.
  • Where appropriate, design and operate roads to accommodate all users of the roadway.
  • Adding countdown pedestrian signals and leading pedestrian intervals, which allow for additional time for pedestrians in the intersection before cars get a green light.
  • Adding refuge islands for pedestrians at intersections.
  • Highway network and transportation system planning, design, maintenance, and operations functions are all likely to require adaptation to meet technical, policy, and legal expectations of a changing vehicle fleet that is technologically connected to other vehicles and the roadway itself.


  • Promotion of education and training programs for older drivers.
  • Raising awareness among older drivers of appropriate safety precautions and seat belt use.


  • Implementing self-driving and connected vehicle technology and the inclusion of additional safety features on new vehicles to address the deficits drivers may face as they age.
  • Improving crashworthiness of vehicles to better protect occupants and withstand impacts.
  • Development of Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) technologies, including crash avoidance technologies.


  • Ensuring public transit vehicles, facilities and stops are easily accessible and accommodating to elderly or disabled passengers.
  • Expanding bus and transit routes.
  • Implementing non-traditional and public sector approaches that are tailored to the needs of older adults, including ridesharing, volunteer driving programs, door-to-door community transportation services, taxi services, and vehicle donation.


    Older Americans represent an increasing share of the nation’s population and of its licensed drivers. As they strive to maintain the active and fulfilling lifestyles to which they have become accustomed, the nation’s transportation system will need to be improved to accommodate them. Providing transportation improvements that will make it easier for older American’s to maintain their mobility benefits users of all ages.

    For older Americans, as well as the population in general, the ability to travel represents freedom, activity, and choice. Older Americans prize their mobility and active lifestyles and want to maintain them as long as possible, often by maintaining their ability to drive.

    Improvements in roadway design, additional highway safety features, expanded transportation options, driver education and the development of self-driving and connected vehicles can help older Americans maintain their mobility in a safe manner while also providing significant benefits to the larger traveling public.

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All data used in this report is the most current available. Sources of information for this report include: The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), ChORUS (Clearinghouse for Older Road User Safety), AAA, The Brookings Institution, Monash University, AARP Public Policy Institute; the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety(IIHS) and the U.S. Census Bureau.