The question of whether people should continue to drive well into old age is a contentious one. On the one hand, driving can help older adults stay mobile, independent, and connected to their loved ones and their communities. Yet, data consistently shows that driving gets riskier with age.
Our 2015 Senior Driving study estimated that about 14 million Americans had been involved in a car crash caused by an elderly driver in the previous year. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that some 586 elderly drivers are injured and 15 are killed in auto accidents in the U.S. each day.
However, a new Caring.com study reveals that some states are more dangerous than others for seniors on the road. Lax driving laws for older adults appeared to play a role. More than half of the 10 most dangerous states for older drivers are among just 19 states nationwide without stricter driving rules for older adults. Factors such as population density also likely contributed to the higher rate of senior driving deaths in some states.
Weather and out-of-date transportation infrastructure can also impact the rate of senior driving deaths in a given area, says Richard Murdocco, M.A., who has written extensively about land use, urban planning and development.
And in suburban areas lacking mass transportation options or pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, seniors often must drive to get around, which can also push up the rate of older adults involved in car accidents in those communities, he notes.
“Nationwide, suburban areas have struggled with aging populations – they’re trying to adapt an old infrastructure to the new normal of a graying population,” Murdocco says.
To put together this list, we compared the number of people 65 and older killed in car crashes in a given state with that age group’s share of the state’s overall population. Sources included the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Census Bureau.
Delaware is the 10th deadliest U.S. state for drivers 65 and older, our research shows. In 2014, some 22 percent of those killed in car crashes in the state that year were 65 or older. Yet, that age group accounts for only 16 percent of Delaware’s population.
The northeastern state’s high population density, icy winters and lack of stricter regulations for older motorists likely contributed to its ranking.
This Pacific Northwest state is the ninth most dangerous for older drivers based on our report. In 2014, some 20% of people killed in auto collisions in Washington were 65 or older, while that age cohort made up only 14 percent of overall state population.
8. New Jersey
Known for its long commute times and as of 2015, a traffic-related political scandal known as Bridgegate, The Garden State also scores lower-than-average marks for senior driving safety. Our data shows that New Jersey is the eighth most hazardous in the nation for drivers 65 and older.
Of the 556 people who died in car wrecks there in 2014, more than 21 percent were seniors, even though that age group makes up just 15 percent of New Jersey’s total population.
It may be one of the country’s top vacation destinations, but unfortunately, the Aloha State is also one of the most dangerous states for older drivers. According to 2014 figures, about 23 percent of the people killed in car crashes in Hawaii are 65 are older, while that demographic accounts for only 16 percent of the population.
The state ranks as the seventh most dangerous, despite being one of 31 states with stricter laws for older drivers, including more frequent license renewals starting at age 72.
While public transportation makes it easier for older adults to get around big cities like Philadelphia without a car, Pennsylvania as a whole is the sixth deadliest state for seniors on the road, our data shows.
While just 17 percent of the state’s population is comprised of residents 65 or older, that age group made up nearly a quarter (24 percent) of car-related fatalities there.
Idaho’s relatively low population density and more frequent driver’s license renewals for residents 63 and older weren’t enough to keep the state from ranking as the fifth deadliest for older drivers.
In 2014, people 65 and older accounted for 22 percent of those killed in car wrecks in the state even though that age cohort is only 14 percent of Idaho’s population.
4. New York
As one of the most populous states in the nation, it may not be surprising that New York also has one of the country’s highest rates of car-related deaths.
What’s more surprising is that seniors account for 23 percent of those fatalities, while residents 65 and older make up only 15 percent of the state’s population.
While public transportation and wide sidewalks help seniors get around New York City without a car, Murdocco notes that mass transit options are scarcer in suburbs like many found in Long Island, prompting high numbers of older adults to get behind the wheel.
While access to quality health care and overall quality of life for seniors earned Minnesota the #3 spot in our Best States to Grow Old list, it also ranks as the third most dangerous for senior drivers, according to our research.
A full 23 percent of those killed in auto crashes in the state are 65 or older, while that age group accounts for just 14 percent of the overall state population.
Maine’s roadways offer scenic views, but they’re also among the most dangerous in the country for older adults. The state is the second-deadliest in the U.S. for drivers 65 and older, our research reveals.
More than 27 percent of the 131 people killed in car accidents there in 2014 were seniors. Yet, residents 65 and over represent just 18 percent of the population. A Maine law requiring more frequent vision tests for drivers over 40 was not enough to change this dynamic.
1. Rhode Island
The smallest state in the country is also the most dangerous for older drivers, our report shows. Senior citizens accounted for a whopping 35 percent of car-related deaths in 2014, but make up only 16 percent of the state’s population.
This startling statistic comes despite a state law mandating more frequent driver’s license renewals for drivers over 75.