Understanding Older Drivers: An Examination of Medical Conditions, Medication Use, and Travel Behavior

This study of two national databases provides details on older driver travel behaviors, automobility, and medication use.

April 2014

Suggested Citation

For media inquiries, contact:

Tamra Johnson
202-942-2079
TRJohnson@national.aaa.com

Authors

Sandra Rosenbloom

Robert Santos

Abstract

The AAA Foundation has embarked on a long-term study of older drivers that aims to answer key questions about medical conditions, medication usage, travel behaviors, and mobility options for seniors who no longer drive. With preparations for the multiyear study now underway, this report was designed to examine two existing databases in order to establish baseline information on what we know now about these issues.

One in six drivers on U.S. roads today are 65 years of age or older. Though generally a very safe group of motorists, older Americans may be more likely to have a medical condition or use medications that can affect their driving. Moreover, as people age, fragility begins to make crash survival and recovery more difficult. As such, finding ways to keep seniors safe and mobile is among the AAA Foundation’s top priorities.

Overview

  • Objective: Examine the relationships between medical problems/medication usage and the driving behavior and mobility of older Americans.
  • Methods: Tabulated and analyzed data from two existing surveys to create a portrait of older driver behavior:
    • 2009 National Household Travel Survey (NHTS)
    • 2011 National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS)

Key Findings – Licensing and Travel Patterns

  • Older drivers are an active group:
    • Over 75% of male drivers and 60% of female drivers over age 85 drove five or more days per week; and
    • Among the same group, fewer than 5% of men and 10% of women drove less than once a week.
  • Licensing rates have increased sharply among older drivers:
    • In the early 1970s, barely half of all Americans ages 65 and older had licenses;
    • By 2010, this had increased to almost 84%.
  • Between 1990 and 2009, every measure indicates increased automobility of older drivers:
    • Daily travel patterns for drivers 65+ indicate more trips, more miles driven, and more time spent driving in 2009 than 1990.

Key Findings – Medical Conditions and Medication Use

  • Older drivers are significantly more likely to report a medical condition than younger drivers:
    • Drivers ages 65-69 are twice as likely to report having a medical condition as drivers 24-64.
  • Medication use is very high among older drivers:
    • Over 90% of older drivers take prescription medications; and
    • Of those who take any medication, over two-thirds take multiple medications.
  • Gender differences are extremely large in all aspects of medication use, travel behavior, and driving self-regulation among motorists ages 65 and older:
    • Women without a medical condition drive less than men with a medical condition;
    • Women drivers who use medications or who have a medical condition are more likely to self-regulate their driving than are comparable men; and
    • Women are more likely to report having a medical condition and using multiple medications.
  • Older drivers who report using medications or having a medical condition are more likely to self-regulate their driving behavior:
    • Three-quarters of drivers ages 65 and older who have a medical condition report reduced daily travel;
    • Older drivers using medications avoid night driving at double the rate of drivers ages 24-64; and
    • Older drivers using medications drive fewer days each week.
  • Income appears to play a role in ways that warrant future research:
    • Self-regulatory behavior declines with increasing income among people taking multiple medications or who have a medical condition; and
    • Women drivers ages 65-69 with incomes under $13,000 were 62% more likely to restrict nighttime driving than women of the same age with incomes over $70,000.

Discussion & Additional Information

This study corroborates numerous findings in older driver research, particularly pertaining to the higher prevalence of medical conditions and medication usage among older drivers, and the active steps many take to limit their driving to favorable conditions. There is also clear evidence that higher-income seniors drive more and self-regulate less, even when they have medical conditions. Understanding the various reasons for this – especially since higher-income seniors would likely be able to afford alternate transportation options in the face of medical concerns – will be important to future research efforts.

Suggested Citation

For media inquiries, contact:

Tamra Johnson
202-942-2079
TRJohnson@national.aaa.com

Authors

Sandra Rosenbloom

The Urban Institute

Robert Santos

The Urban Institute