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CR 163: Older Driver Risks and Countermeasures (1995)


Various research techniques were used in the older driver study, including:

  • reviewing overseas and Australian literature on older drivers and their crash involvement;
  • detailed analysis of the ATSB Road Safety’s (FORS) crash statistics as well as statistics from other data bases;
  • development of scenarios based on an analysis of the FORS Fatal File case studies;
  • qualitative methods to understand the situation from the older drivers’ perspective, ascertaining barriers to communication and reaction to countermeasures; and
  • interviewing stakeholders and experts in the field about their insights and experiences of older drivers.

The report is divided into three major sections:

A: Situation analysis

B: Discussion of older driver perceptions on driving

C: Suggestions for possible future activities

A.  Situation Analysis

Developed countries around the world are experiencing increased growth in the proportion of older people in their populations. Associated with the ageing of the population is an increase in the number of older drivers which means the mobility needs of older people will become even more important in the future.

Older drivers are not a problem in terms of the actual number of crashes in which they are involved, since they do not drive far enough to record high accident levels. The ATSB Road Safety’s Serious Injury database for 1990-92 reveals that drivers of cars and light commercial vehicles over 65 years account for only ten percent of serious injuries.

By examining the incidence of fatalities and serious injuries according to population size and gender, it becomes clear that males have a higher level of risk across all age categories. The U-shape trend which occurs shows that older male drivers (65 plus) report risk levels approaching those of younger male drivers (15-24 years). Female drivers in contrast show little deviation in risk according to age.

Older drivers are however, a major problem in terms of their risk of crashing while driving. When the distance travelled by certain age groups is taken into account (that is, exposure data) the older driver’s fatality rate escalates to levels equivalent to, and for females higher than, the levels of the 15-24 age group. The older driver’s accident risk also tends to increase with increasing age.

The high fatality rate amongst older drivers is thought to relate to their increased frailty and consequently a greater risk of crash injuries resulting in fatalities.

Older drivers are also more at risk of being responsible for causing a crash (Torpey and Francis 1992). Using FORS Fatality File data it can be shown that the odds are more than five to one (5.7 to 1) that an older driver (aged 80-84 years) involved in a fatal crash will be responsible for that crash. This figure is high compared to drivers aged 45-49 years (0.75 to 1) and teenage drivers (2.2 to 1).

Older drivers tend to be involved in crashes with the following characteristics:

  • multi-vehicle crashes;
  • crashes occurring during the daylight hours of weekdays;
  • occurring at intersections and other complex traffic situations like roundabouts;
  • while travelling at lower speeds; and
  • involving failure to give way, improper turns, disregarding traffic signals or angle collisions.

In contrast to younger drivers, older drivers are underrepresented in crashes involving:

  • loss of control, for example, high speed, skidding, rollover crashes;
  • alcohol use; and
  • night time driving.

Factors thought to contribute to the accident involvement of older drivers relate to the physical changes associated with ageing. These physiological changes can affect vision, hearing, physical mobility and cognitive processes. Thus older drivers perform worse than other drivers on manoeuvres, vehicle handling and observing due in part to a reduction in flexibility (mobility of neck and trunk). As people age, their ability to process information declines in terms of capacity and speed. Older drivers are therefore more at risk in novel situations. The literature on older drivers also cites certain conditions, such as diabetes mellitus or depression and medication use as impacting on driving abilities. Our review found no comparisons with teenage drivers in this regard.

The environmental conditions influencing older driver crash involvement include weather conditions and the time of day in which a journey is undertaken. Older drivers tend to avoid inclement conditions and driving during peak times.

Over time, not only is the incidence of holding a licence increasing amongst the older ages, more importantly their vehicle usage rates (kilometres driven) are also increasing substantially. If the amount of travel undertaken is a reflection of driving skill (i.e: more experience better able to avoid crashes) this may help in the years ahead to compensate for the physiological decrements associated with the ageing process.

B. Target Group Perceptions

Elliott & Shanahan Research conducted group discussions and indepth interviews with older drivers to discover their views and attitudes towards driving. The key findings include:

  • the car is important to older drivers for mobility and independence and is used mostly everyday;
  • Being able to drive has come to be seen as a right by older drivers, rather than a privilege;
  • Older drivers are reluctant to admit that ageing may affect their driving skills. This is clearly a sensitive issue with some;
  • Although unwilling to admit changes in driving ability, older drivers do modify their behaviour by:
-  leaving longer gaps between themselves and the car in front of them;
-  driving more slowly and cautiously;
-  planning the route for a trip into unfamiliar territory;
-  taking extra time and more breaks on longer trips;
-  avoiding driving at night, during peak hour and bad weather conditions when visibility is poor;
  • Any driving problems experienced are attributed to other drivers or changes in the road environment (for example, roundabouts, road rule changes, multi-lane highways);
  • Older drivers do not consider themselves to be "at risk" road users. They believe their careful attitude and experience compensate for any physical limitations that may occur;
  • Deciding when to relinquish ones licence is seen as a personal decision. Factors impacting on this decision, include:

-  poor health;
-  lack of confidence in driving ability; and
-  based on the advice of a trusted friend or family member.

C. Suggestions for possible future activities


Response to a number of countermeasures by older drivers and stakeholders was sought during the study and following is a brief overview of the findings.

The overall response by older drivers to the countermeasures suggests that barriers exist which will need to be overcome in order for initiatives to be adopted by this group.

Education and Training

  • The role of older driver education and training is to further encourage self regulation.
  • A range of educative techniques are suggested in the literature, including, specialised programs, leaflets and booklets.
  • Specialist older driver programs should provide participants with information on road rules and discuss the possible impact of age on physical and mental abilities which could affect driving skills.
  • Opinions differ regarding the age at which older driver education should begin. Some programs target drivers from 50 years of age (e.g: SafeDrive) while others target 75 year old drivers (e.g: Older Driver Handbook).

Licence Testing Procedures

  • These fall into three categories:

-  practical driving tests;
-  knowledge test of road rules; and
-  assessment by health professionals.

  • Views differ in the literature concerning the appropriateness of these three assessment methods.
  • There appears to be little support for knowledge tests among the target group. Older drivers believe their driving experience is more important than the results of a knowledge test.
  • Participants perceived that medical examination is an appropriate method of assessing driver suitability. Some stakeholders questioned the ability of the medical test to highlight functional or cognitive impairment.
  • There was a mixed reaction to conditional or restricted licences. The fact that drivers could maintain some mobility and independence (under certain conditions) was viewed positively, although such a system was believed difficult to police.

Changes to the Road and Vehicle Design

  • A number of changes to vehicle design were also suggested in the literature. Vehicle design changes that may improve older driver safety include changes to:

-  seat belts;
-  mirrors;
-  dash boards; and
-  seats.

  • Better road signage, lighting and traffic signals are also recommended in the literature to enhance the road environment.
  • Participants questioned the economic feasibility of implementing such initiatives.


Regardless of whatever countermeasure is chosen to target older drivers, effective communication is integral to the success of any strategy or campaign.

The following insights were gleaned from our older driver study and are offered as guidelines for countermeasure development.

Any initiative should be:

  • carefully planned;
  • influenced by an understanding of the older drivers’ environment (what they want, their knowledge, attitudes and beliefs);
  • relevant to the target group;
  • appropriate and acceptable in content for older drivers;
  • designed to encourage participation and acceptance of the message(s);
  • presented in a meaningful way for the older driver audience; and
  • able to be monitored and evaluated.

Download Complete Document: Older_Risk_1 [PDFPDF: 5520 KB]

Type: Research and Analysis Report
Sub Type: Consultant Report
Author(s): Elliot and Shanahan
Topics: Older drivers, Risk
Publication Date: 01/09/95


Last Updated: 6 May, 2013