A new report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that “older” workers defined as aged 65 and above are more than three times as likely to die in a highway-related incident compared to those between the ages of 18 and 54.

The agency analyzed a total of 11,587 U.S. workers aged 18 and older who died in occupational highway transportation incidents between 2008 and 2010.

Of that group, 3,113 or 26.9% were aged 55 and older but overall, fatality rates were highest among workers aged 65 and older (3.1 deaths per 100,000 full-time-equivalent or “FTE” workers) followed by those aged 55 to 64 years (1.4 deaths per 100,000 FTE workers) and way above the fatality rate for those between the ages of 18 and 54 years (0.9 per 100,000 FTE workers).

Higher proportions of deaths involving tractor-trailers, however, were observed for workers aged 18 to 54 years and 55 to 64 years; some 31% and 37%, respectively, according to the research conducted by Stephanie Pratt, PhD, and Rosa Rodríguez-Acosta, PhD, with the division of safety research within the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Pratt and Rodríguez-Acosta also found that collisions between vehicles accounted for the largest proportion of deaths in each age group: 43% for those aged 18-54; some 43% to those aged 55 to 64; and 48% for those 65 and older.

"The data present a disturbing trend as baby boomers move through the risk ages the CDC looks at,” David Kelly, executive director of the National Coalition for Safer Roads (NCSR) and former acting administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), told Fleet Owner.

“Employers will need to pay more attention to their training programs moving forward. As always, the best thing drivers can do is to wear a seat belt, stay off the phone and stay sober while driving," he added.

Among workers aged 65 and above, the type of vehicle most often involved was an automobile (23%), followed by a tractor-trailer (22%), or pickup truck (15%), and a greater proportion of deaths involved off-road and industrial vehicles at 9%, compared with 2% for the other age groups, NIOSH's researchers found.

That being said, though, highway traffic fatalities overall are following a downward trend so far this year. According to preliminary data collected by the National Safety Council and released earlier this month, deaths from motor vehicle crashes during the first six months of 2013 are down 5% compared to the same six month period last year.

That’s a sharp reversal from a far more negative trend the group thought might be taking shape back in February when its number-crunching determined that traffic fatalities increased for 2012 overall versus 2011.

“The Council will be keeping a close eye on our monthly traffic fatality estimates to determine if this decrease [for the first six months of 2013] is just a blip on the radar,” noted Janet Froetscher, NSC’s president and CEO. “Definitive reasons behind the decrease are not known. We are encouraged to see this downward trend and will remain vigilant to keep our roads as safe as possible.”

Despite that 5% drop, however, the loss of life to motor vehicle crashes is still staggering as from January through June this year, according to NSC, an estimated 16,620 traffic deaths occurred, compared to 17,430 over the same period in 2012.

In addition to human loss, NSC also stressed that vehicle crashes present a significant national cost in lost wages and productivity, medical expenses, administrative expenses, employer costs and property damage to the U.S. economy.

Thus the group calculates that for the first six months of 2013, the preliminary cost of motor vehicle deaths, injuries and property damage totaled $127 billion.

Near-term, the NSC estimates that fatalities from traffic crashes for the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend – which begins at 6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 30, and ends at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 2 – should total 394, with another 42,200 “medically consulted” injuries occurring as well over the traditional end-of-summer weekend from motor vehicle collisions.

“NSC issues fatality estimates for major holiday periods to draw attention to the need for drivers to exercise safe driving practices, especially when a significant number of drivers are expected to be on our nation’s roads,” NSC’s Froetscher stressed.