Q&A: Older drivers
- 1 How many older drivers are there?
In 2011, there were an estimated 28.5 million people 70 and older living in the United States, representing about 9 percent of the population. U.S. Census Bureau. 2012. The Older Population: 2010. Availble at: http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-09.pdf. Accessed September 25, 2012. Based on data reported by states to the Federal Highway Administration, there were approximately 22.6 million licensed drivers 70 and older in 2011. This represented approximately 79 percent of the population 70 and older and about 11 percent of drivers of all ages.
- 2 How are the numbers of older drivers and their crash rates changing over time?
Compared with drivers ages 20-69, fewer people 70 and older are licensed to drive, Federal Highway Administration. 2013. Highway statistics 2011. Washington, DC. and they drive fewer miles. Federal Highway Administration. 2008. National Household Travel Survey, 2008. Washington, DC. However, older people now keep their licenses longer and make up a bigger proportion of the population than in past years as baby boomers age. The number of licensed drivers 70 and older increased 27 percent between 1997 and 2011. The proportion of the 70-and-older population with licenses went from 73 percent in 1997 to 79 percent in 2011.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population 70 and older is projected to increase from 28.5 million in 2011 to 52.7 million in 2030. U.S. Census Bureau. 2012. Projections of the population by age and sex for the United States: 2015 to 2060 (NP2012-T12). Washington, DC. The increase in the older driver population has led to concerns about the potential effects on traffic safety. A 2003 Institute study examined historical crash rates of older drivers and projected that older drivers would become an increasing proportion of the overall crash problem, including fatal crashes. Lyman, S.; Ferguson, S.A.; and Williams, A.F. 2002. Older driver involvements in police reported crashes and fatal crashes: trends and projections. Injury Prevention 8:116-20. However, fewer older drivers died in crashes and fewer were involved as drivers in fatal collisions during 1998-2011 than in years past. A total of 4,052 people ages 70 and older died in motor vehicle crashes in 2011. This is 31 percent fewer than in 1997, when deaths peaked, even though the population of people 70 and older rose 17 percent during this period. The rate of fatalities per capita among older people has decreased 45 percent since 1975 and is now at its lowest level.
Rate of fatal crash involvements among passenger vehicle drivers
70 and older per 100,000 people, 1975-2011
A 2011 Institute study examined recent trends in passenger vehicle crash involvements per licensed driver among drivers 70 and older. Cheung, I. and McCartt, A.T. 2011. Declines in fatal crashes of older drivers: Changes in crash risk and survivability. Accident Analysis and Prevention 43:666-74. Nationally, the fatal crash involvement rate for drivers 70 and older declined from 1997 to 2008 and did so at a faster pace than the rate for drivers 35-54 years old. The reductions were strongest among the oldest drivers (age 80 and older). If the fatal crash involvement rates for older drivers had mirrored the trend for middle-age drivers from 1997 to 2008, about 10,000 additional older drivers would have been in fatal crashes. Based on data on police-reported crashes from 13 states, nonfatal injury crash involvement rates showed similarly larger-than-expected declines for older drivers during 1997-2005, but the declines were not significantly larger than for 35-54 year-olds. Involvement rates in crashes with only property damage declined for older drivers but increased for middle-age drivers. The analyses also showed that the odds of an older person surviving a crash increased while the odds of a middle-age person surviving stayed about the same. Thus, the reduced fatality risk of older drivers reflects both a lower likelihood of being involved in a police-reported crash and a greater likelihood that they will survive when they do crash.
- 3 How much do seniors drive?
Based on 2008 travel data, drivers 70 and older drove 42 percent fewer miles, on average, than drivers ages 35-69. Federal Highway Administration. 2008. National Household Travel Survey, 2008. Washington, DC. An Institute study of drivers 65 and older found that drivers with reported impairments in memory, vision, mobility and/or medical conditions such as arthritis or diabetes were more likely than other drivers to self-limit their driving by making fewer trips, traveling shorter distances, and avoiding night driving, driving on interstates and driving in ice or snow. Braitman, K.A. and McCartt, A.T. 2008. Characteristics of older drivers who self-limit their driving. Proceedings of the 52nd Annual Conference of the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine. Barrington, IL: Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine. This supports other research showing that many older drivers self-limit their driving. Baldock, M.; Mathias, J.; McLean, A.; and Berndt, A. 2004. Self-regulation of driving and its relationship to driving ability among older adults. Proceedings of the 2004 Road Safety, Research, Policing, and Education Conference (CD-ROM). Perth, Western Australia: Impact Communications Pty Ltd. Ball, K.; Owsley, C.; Stalvey, B.; Roenker, D.L.; Sloane, M.E.; and Graves, M. 1998. Driving avoidance and functional impairment in older drivers. Accident Analysis and Prevention 30:313-22. Charlton, J.L.; Oxley, J.; Fildes, B.; Oxley, P.; and Newstead, S. 2003. Self-regulatory behaviors of older drivers. Proceedings of the 47th Annual Conference of the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine. Barrington, IL: Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine. Lyman, J.M.; McGwin, G., Jr.; and Sims, R.V. 2001. Factors relating to driving difficulty and habits in older drivers. Accident Analysis and Prevention 33:413-21. Marottoli, R.A.; Ostfeld, A.M.; Merrill, S.S.; Perlman, G.D.; Filey, D.J.; and Cooney, L.M., Jr. 1993. Driving cessation and changes in mileage driven among elderly individuals. Journal of Gerontology 48:S255-S260. West, C.G.; Gildengorin, G.; Haegerstrom-Portnoy, G.; Lott, L.A.; Schneck, M.E.; and Brabyn, J.A. 2003. Vision and driving self-restriction in older adults. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 51:1348-55. Owsley, C.; Ball, K.; Sloane, M.E.; Roenker, D.L.; and Bruni, J.R. 1991. Visual/cognitive correlates of vehicle accidents in older drivers. Psychology and Aging 6:403-15. Stutts, J. 1998. Do older drivers with visual and cognitive impairments drive less? Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 46:854-61. Keay, L; Munoz, B.; Turano, K.A.; Hassan, S.E.; Munro, C.A.; Duncan, D.D.; Baldwin, K.; Jasti, S.; Gower, E.W.; and West, S.K. 2009. Visual and cognitive deficits predict stopping or restricting driving: The Salisbury Eye Evaluation Driving Study (SEEDS). Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science 50:107-113. Molnar, L.J. and Eby, D.W. 2008. The relationship between self-regulation and driving-related abilities in older drivers: an exploratory study. Traffic Injury Prevention 9:314-19. However, some seniors do not self-regulate or adjust their driving, Baldock, M.; Mathias, J.; McLean, A.; and Berndt, A. 2004. Self-regulation of driving and its relationship to driving ability among older adults. Proceedings of the 2004 Road Safety, Research, Policing, and Education Conference (CD-ROM). Perth, Western Australia: Impact Communications Pty Ltd. Ball, K.; Owsley, C.; Stalvey, B.; Roenker, D.L.; Sloane, M.E.; and Graves, M. 1998. Driving avoidance and functional impairment in older drivers. Accident Analysis and Prevention 30:313-22. even some with high levels of cognitive impairment. Stutts, J. 1998. Do older drivers with visual and cognitive impairments drive less? Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 46:854-61.
- 4 How do crash rates for older drivers compare with those for drivers of other ages?
Older drivers have low rates of police-reported crash involvements per capita; their per capita fatal crash rates begin to increase at age 70. Per mile traveled, crash rates and fatal crash rates also start increasing at about age 70. Some caution should be used when comparing crash rates per mile traveled of different age groups. Older drivers generally travel fewer annual miles than most other age groups and, similar to low-mileage drivers of other ages, they tend to accumulate much of their mileage in city driving conditions. In contrast, drivers who accumulate higher annual miles tend to do drive more freeways or divided multilane roads, which generally have much lower crash rates per mile traveled than other types of roads. Hence, the elevated crash rates for older drivers when measured per mile traveled may be somewhat inflated due to the type of driving they do. Janke, M.K. 1991. Accidents, mileage, and the exaggeration of risk. Accident Analysis and Prevention 23:183-88.
Insurance claims provide another view of crashes of all severities. Property damage liability claims are filed when an at-fault driver damages someone else's property. Collision coverage insures one's own vehicle against loss caused by a crash. Although not as high as for the youngest drivers, property damage liability claims and collision claims per insured vehicle year start increasing after about age 65, meaning that seniors are involved in crashes more often.
Per capita rate of passenger vehicle crash involvements
by driver age, 2011
Rate of passenger vehicle crash involvements
per mile traveled by driver age, 2008
Number of collision and property damage liability insurance claims
per 100 insured vehicle years by rated driver age, 2010-12 vehicle models, calendar years 2009-12
- 5 To what extent does fragility contribute to older drivers' fatal crash rates?
A study of older drivers' elevated fatal crash rates per mile traveled between 1993 and 1997 revealed that the main factor was not seniors' over-involvement in crashes but their fragility, defined as the risk of death in a crash. Li, G.; Braver E.R.; and Chen, L-H. 2003. Fragility versus excessive crash involvement as determinants of high death rates per vehicle-mile of travel among older drivers. Accident Analysis and Prevention 35:227-35. Fragility increased starting around ages 60-64 and continued to rise with age. Similar results are found with more recent data for 2007-11.
Number of passenger vehicle driver deaths
per 1,000 drivers involved in police-reported crashes
by driver age, 2007-2011
- 6 How do crashes involving older drivers differ from the crashes of other drivers?
Compared with younger drivers, senior drivers are more likely to be involved in certain types of collisions — angle crashes, overtaking or merging crashes, and especially intersection crashes. Among passenger vehicle drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2011, multiple-vehicle crashes at intersections accounted for 39 percent of the crashes for drivers 80 and older, compared with 18 percent for drivers ages 20-49.
Studies of senior-involved crashes have found that failure to yield the right-of-way is the most common error among seniors. Seniors are cited for this error more often than younger drivers. Mayhew, D.R.; Simpson, H.M.; and Ferguson, S.A. 2006. Collisions involving senior drivers: high-risk conditions and locations. Traffic Injury Prevention 7:117-24. In a 2007 Institute study of older drivers who were at fault in intersection crashes involving nonfatal injuries, drivers age 70 and older had more failure-to-yield crashes than younger drivers. Braitman, K.A.; Kirley, B.B.; Chaudhary, N.K.; and Ferguson, S.A. 2007. Factors leading to older drivers' intersection crashes. Traffic Injury Prevention 8:267-74. Reasons for older drivers' failure-to-yield crashes varied with age. Compared with younger and older drivers, drivers 70-79 were more likely to see another vehicle but misjudge whether there was time to proceed. Drivers 80 and older predominantly failed to see the other vehicle.
- 7 How do age-related changes affect driving ability?
Specific physical, cognitive and visual abilities may decline with advancing age. However, there are large individual differences in the onset and degree of functional impairments, so age alone is not sufficient information to judge driving ability. Still, functional impairments can interfere with driving and may become particularly evident in stressful or challenging driving situations such as merging or changing lanes. Several studies have shown that higher levels of physical, cognitive or visual impairment among older drivers are associated with increased risk of crash involvement. Owsley, C.; Ball, K.; Sloane, M.E.; Roenker, D.L.; and Bruni, J.R. 1991. Visual/cognitive correlates of vehicle accidents in older drivers. Psychology and Aging 6:403-15. Ball, K.; Owsley, C.; Sloane, M.; Roenker, D.; and Bruni, J. 1993. Visual attention problems as predictor of vehicle crashes in older drivers. Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science 34:3110-23. Johnson, C. and Keltner, J. 1983. Incidence of visual field loss in 20,000 eyes and its relationship to driving performance. Archives of Ophthalmology 101:371-75. Owsley, C.; McGwin, G., Jr.; and Ball, K. 1998. Vision impairment, eye disease, and injurious motor vehicle crashes in the elderly Ophthalmic Epidemiology 5:101-13. Many older drivers also take medications, which can impair driving ability at any age but can be especially impairing for an older person.
- 8 Do older drivers constitute a substantial hazard to other road users?
In terms of fatalities, older drivers are a danger mostly to themselves and their passengers, who also typically are older and thus more vulnerable to injuries. Braver, E.R. and Trempel, R.E. 2004. Are older drivers actually at higher risk of involvement in collisions resulting in deaths or non-fatal injuries among their passengers and other road users? Injury Prevention 10:27-32. Dellinger, A.M.; Kresnow, M.; White, D.D.; and Sehgal, M. 2004. Risk to self versus risk to others: How do older drivers compare to others on the road? American Journal of Preventive Medicine 26:217-221. Langford, J.; Bohensky, M.; Koppel, S.; and Newstead, S. 2008. Do older drivers pose a risk to other road users? Traffic Injury Prevention 9:181-89. Tefft, B. 2008. Risks older drivers pose to themselves and to other road users. Journal of Safety Research 39:577-82. In 2011, 77 percent of people killed in crashes involving a driver 70 or older were either the older driver themselves (62 percent) or their older passengers (15 percent). One study found that, per licensed driver, drivers 75 and older kill fewer pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists and occupants of other vehicles than do drivers ages 30-59 Braver, E.R. and Trempel, R.E. 2004. Are older drivers actually at higher risk of involvement in collisions resulting in deaths or non-fatal injuries among their passengers and other road users? Injury Prevention 10:27-32. . However, drivers 75-79 and older have more insurance claims for damage to other vehicles per insured vehicle year than drivers ages 35-69.
- 9 Are state rules for driver's license renewal different for older drivers?
A growing number of states have imposed additional requirements for seniors renewing their driver's licenses. The ages at which special regulations are required vary by state. More than half the states have one or more renewal provisions specific to older drivers, such as shorter renewal cycles, required vision or road testing and in-person rather than mail or electronic renewal. For details, see U.S. driver licensing renewal procedures for older drivers.
An Institute study of a Florida vision test requirement for drivers 80 and older found that 80 percent of those eligible to renew their licenses attempted to do so, and 7 percent of them were denied renewal because they failed the vision test. McGwin, G., Jr.; McCartt, A.T.; Braitman, K.A.; and Owsley, C. 2008. Survey of older drivers' experiences with Florida's mandatory vision re-screening law for licensure. Ophthalmic Epidemiology 15:121-27. Of those who did not seek renewal, about half said they thought they would fail the vision test.
- 10 Can screening tests identify drivers with an elevated crash risk?
The goal of driver screening is to identify people at high risk of crash involvement without falsely identifying other drivers who are not at high risk. So far, there are no tests that accomplish this goal with sufficient accuracy.
A few states, including California and Maryland, are studying tiered screening tests. California developed and pilot-tested a three-tier assessment for driver's license renewal for applicants of all ages. Camp, B.J. 2011. California’s three-tier driving-centered assessment system – outcome analysis. Report no. CAL-DMV-RSS-11-234. Sacramento, CA: Office of Traffic Safety, California Department of Motor Vehicles. The first two tiers consisted of nondriving assessment tools (e.g., driving knowledge test, cognitive screening, vision tests, observation of obvious physical limitations). Applicants failing both tiers had to pass an on-road driving test to renew their licenses and also received an educational intervention. There was no evidence of a reduction in crash risk subsequent to participation in the pilot and only weak evidence of a reduction in subsequent at-fault injury and fatal crashes. However, there was some evidence that the pilot program was associated with an increased amount of time to complete the renewal process, as well as an increase in the odds of failing to renew the license and the odds of receiving a restricted license.
A pilot study in Maryland found that drivers ages 55 and older who performed poorly on select cognitive measures were approximately 25 percent more likely than other drivers to have a subsequent at-fault crash after controlling for age, gender and annual mileage. Ball, K.K.; Roenker, D.L.; Wadley, V.G.; Edwards, J.D.; Roth, D.L.; McGwin, G., Jr.; Raleigh, R.; Joyce, J.J.; Cissell, G.M.; and Dube, T. 2006. Can high-risk older drivers be identified through performance-based measures in a Department of Motor Vehicles setting? Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 54:77-84. Although these findings suggest a general relationship between some measures of cognitive ability and crash risk, it is not clear whether the cognitive tests are sufficiently sensitive to predict future crash risk with the accuracy that would be required to justify suspending license privileges.
- 11 Do special regulations for driver's license renewal among older drivers affect crash rates?
Studies have yielded mixed results. Several studies have shown that vision testing among seniors was associated with lower fatal crash rates per population Levy, D.T.; Vernick, J.S.; and Howard, K.A. 1995. Relationship between driver's license renewal policies and fatal crashes involving drivers 70 years or older. Journal of the American Medical Association 274:1026-30. Nelson, D.E.; Sacks, J.J.; and Chorba, T.L. 1992. Required vision testing for older drivers. New England Journal of Medicine 326:1784-85. and per licensed driver. Shipp, M.D. 1998. Potential human and economic cost-savings attributable to vision testing policies for driver license renewal, 1989-1991. Optometry and Vision Science 75:103-18. In one study, states with laws requiring in-person driver's license renewal had a 17 percent lower fatality rate per licensed driver among the oldest drivers (85 and older), compared with states without such laws. For drivers 65 and older, fatality rates per licensed driver did not differ for states with and without laws for vision testing, road testing or shortened renewal periods. Grabowski, D.C.; Campbell, C.M.; and Morrisey, M.A. 2004. Elderly licensure laws and motor vehicle fatalities. Journal of the American Medical Association 291:2840-46. Similarly, an Australian study found that drivers 80 and older in jurisdictions with age-based mandatory medical and/or road tests did not have lower fatal and serious injury crash involvement rates per capita or per licensed driver compared with drivers in a jurisdiction without age-based mandatory testing. Some jurisdictions with mandatory age-based testing had significantly higher fatal and serious injury crash rates than the jurisdiction without age-based testing. Langford, J.; Fitzharris, M.; Newstead, S.; and Koppell, S. 2004. Some consequences of different older driver licensing procedures in Australia. Accident Analysis and Prevention 36:993-1001. Thus, the effects of special regulations for license renewal among older drivers are not well established.
- 12 Do states place driving restrictions on older drivers? If so, what are the effects?
States may impose license restrictions on a driver of any age, but restrictions are imposed mostly on teenagers and older drivers. The goal of restricted licensing is to allow drivers to continue to drive in conditions that are safe for them. Restrictions on teenage drivers apply to all new licensees under a certain age because of their relative inexperience and immaturity, while restrictions on older drivers are based on individual assessment. Possible restrictions include no driving on high-speed roads, outside a certain area or at night.
No state restricts older drivers based on age alone. The restrictions generally are based on evaluations that may be conducted when drivers apply for license renewal. Drivers may be subject to evaluations by licensing agencies based on referrals from police, physicians, family, or observations by personnel at licensing offices. States may establish policies for further testing that include vision screening, road tests, knowledge tests and/or evaluations by medical advisory boards.
An Institute study of a restricted licensing program in Iowa found that drivers 70 and older who were identified for further testing reported more visual impairments, prescription medications and physical mobility limitations. Braitman, K.A.; Chaudhary, N.K.; and McCartt, A.T. 2010 Restricted licensing among older drivers in Iowa. Journal of Safety Research 4:481-86. Driving exposure was reduced more among older drivers who received restrictions than among drivers who did not receive restrictions. It appeared that restrictions reinforced decisions some older drivers already had made to decrease or self-regulate their trips by driving less or reducing or eliminating driving in risky situations such as at night. The effects of restrictions on crashes are unknown.
- 13 Do older drivers self-limit the amount of driving that they do?
An Institute survey of more than 2,500 drivers ages 65 and older in three states found that drivers travel fewer miles with increasing age. Braitman, K.A. and McCartt, A.T. 2008. Characteristics of older drivers who self-limit their driving. Proceedings of the 52nd Annual Conference of the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine. Barrington, IL: Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine. Drivers 80 and older were more than twice as likely as 65-69 year-olds to self-limit their driving by doing such things as avoiding night driving, making fewer trips, traveling shorter distances and avoiding interstate highways and roads that are icy or snowy. Drivers of any age reporting impairments in physical mobility, vision or memory and those with more reported medical conditions were more likely to restrict their driving. These survey findings mirror earlier reports. Ball, K.; Owsley, C.; Stalvey, B.; Roenker, D.L.; Sloane, M.E.; and Graves, M. 1998. Driving avoidance and functional impairment in older drivers. Accident Analysis and Prevention 30:313-22. Charlton, J.L.; Oxley, J.; Fildes, B.; Oxley, P.; and Newstead, S. 2003. Self-regulatory behaviors of older drivers. Proceedings of the 47th Annual Conference of the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine. Barrington, IL: Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine. Lyman, J.M.; McGwin, G., Jr.; and Sims, R.V. 2001. Factors relating to driving difficulty and habits in older drivers. Accident Analysis and Prevention 33:413-21. West, C.G.; Gildengorin, G.; Haegerstrom-Portnoy, G.; Lott, L.A.; Schneck, M.E.; and Brabyn, J.A. 2003. Vision and driving self-restriction in older adults. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 51:1348-55. Stutts, J. 1998. Do older drivers with visual and cognitive impairments drive less? Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 46:854-61. Vance, D.E.; Roenker, D.L.; Cissell, G.M.; Edwards, J.D.; Wadley, V.G.; and Ball, K.K. 2006. Predictors of driving exposure and avoidance in a field study of older drivers from the state of Maryland. Accident Analysis and Prevention 38:823-31.
Based on follow-up interviews in the Institute study, lifestyle changes such as becoming widowed or divorced or retiring were associated with changes in the amount of driving. Braitman, K.A. and Williams, A.F. 2001. Changes in self-regulatory driving among older drivers over time. Traffic Injury Prevention 12:568-75. Older drivers with worsening memory and physical mobility regulated their driving to some extent by avoiding more driving situations. However, during a three-year study period, reported changes were not large, perhaps because older drivers with larger changes were among those who did not complete the follow-up surveys.
The Institute study of a restricted licensing program in Iowa found that many drivers 70 and older with restricted licenses — prohibiting driving when headlights are required, on interstates or high-speed roads, or outside of a geographic area — were already limiting their driving in those situations to some degree before the restrictions were imposed. Braitman, K.A.; Chaudhary, N.K.; and McCartt, A.T. 2010 Restricted licensing among older drivers in Iowa. Journal of Safety Research 4:481-86.
- 14 Is driver education beneficial for older drivers?
There is little evidence of safety benefits from education courses for older drivers, although several organizations offer such courses. National programs include those operated by AARP, AAA and the National Safety Council.
Drivers who choose to take these courses are not representative of all drivers in their age group. Typically, they have lower crash rates before taking the course than those who do not choose to take them. This makes it difficult to design a study that separates the effects of the course from the effects due to differences between participants and non-participants. None of the evaluations of older driver improvement programs or educational initiatives has found a reduction in subsequent crash risk among participants relative to comparison groups. Janke, M.K. 1994. Mature driver improvement program in California. Transportation Research Record 1438:77-83. Kelsey, S.L and Janke, M.K. 2005. Pilot educational outreach to high-risk elderly drivers. Report no. CAL-DMV-RSS-05-213. Sacramento, CA: Office of Traffic Safety, California Department of Motor Vehicles. McKnight, A.J.; Simone, G.A.; and Weidman, J.R. 1982. Elderly driver retraining. Report no. DOT HS-806-336. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Owsley, C.; McGwin, G.. Jr.; Phillips, J.M.; McNeil, S.F.; and Stalvey, B.T. 2004. Impact of an educational program on the safety of high-risk, visually impaired, older drivers. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 26:222-29. Nasvadi, G.E. and Vavrik, J. 2007. Crash risk of older drivers after attending a mature driver education program. Accident Analysis and Prevention 39:1073-79.
- 15 How can new vehicle features improve safety for older drivers?
Technologies to enhance occupant protection in crashes include advanced frontal airbags that reduce the likelihood of injuries resulting from deployments. Improved head restraint systems help protect occupants against whiplash and other neck injuries. Some vehicles also provide features that may assist older drivers, such as bigger and brighter displays and controls.
Vehicle technologies intended to prevent crashes may help drivers of all ages. Electronic stability control, a technology intended to increase a vehicle's stability, has been found to be highly effective in reducing single-vehicle fatal crash risk. Farmer, C.M. 2006. Effects of electronic stability control: an update. Traffic Injury Prevention 7:319-24. The jury is still out on many other advanced crash avoidance technologies, which haven't been around long enough for researchers to analyze their effectiveness. However, some systems look promising, based on early indications from insurance claims data. These include forward collision avoidance systems, especially those with autonomous braking, which are proving to be effective in reducing insurance claims. Adaptive headlights also were found to be effective in reducing insurance claims. Adaptive headlights help drivers see better on dark, curved roads by pivoting the beam in the direction of travel. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. 2012. They’re working: insurance claims data show which new technologies are preventing crashes. Status Report 47(5).
Despite the potential benefits of crash avoidance technologies for helping to prevent crashes, there is some concern that systems requiring attention or responses from drivers may lead to cognitive overload or distraction from the driving task itself, especially for older drivers.
- 16 What changes in the driving environment could improve safety for older drivers?
Much can be done to improve roadway safety for all drivers, but especially for seniors. Improving the visibility of road signs and pavement markings through lettering, size or color can be particularly important for older drivers who may have visual impairments due to macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts or other health factors. Intersections are a particular problem for older drivers, and countermeasures may include adding left-turn lanes and left-turn traffic signals. One study found that low-cost modifications to intersections (e.g., making traffic signals more visible, adding a dedicated left-turn lane) resulted in a 13 percent greater reduction in injury crashes per licensed driver for drivers 65 and older compared with drivers ages 25-64. Bagdade, J.S. 2004. Low cost intersection improvements reduce crashes for senior drivers. 2004 ITE Annual Meeting and Exhibit Compendium of Technical Papers (CD-ROM). Washington, DC: Institute of Transportation Engineers.
Another approach is to reconfigure existing or new intersections as roundabouts, which reduce vehicle speeds and eliminate some of the most complicated aspects of traditional intersections. In an Institute study of intersections that were converted from stop signs or traffic signals to roundabouts, injury crashes were reduced by 76 percent. Retting, R.A.; Persuad, B.N.; Gardner, P.E.; and Lord, D. 2001. Crash and injury reduction following installation of roundabouts in the United States. American Journal of Public Health 91:628-31. However, older drivers favored roundabouts somewhat less than younger drivers. In surveys taken at least one year after the construction of new roundabouts in six communities, 65 percent of drivers ages 65 and older favored the roundabouts, compared with 70 percent of drivers 35-64 and 74 percent of drivers 18-34. Retting, R.A.; Kyrychenko, S.Y.; and McCartt, A.T. 2007. Long-term trends in public opinion following construction of roundabouts. Transportation Research Record 2019:219-24. An Institute study of intersections that were converted to two-lane roundabouts suggests that some older drivers may use alternate routes to avoid them. Hu, W.; McCartt, A.T.; Jermakian, J.S.; and Mandavilli, S. 2013. Public opinion, traffic performance, the environment, and safety after the construction of double-lane roundabouts. Arlington, VA: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Cameras were used to observe travel on the road where the roundabouts were built and on a parallel road. After the roundabouts were built, drivers ages 70 and older were more likely to be traveling on the parallel road than on the road with the roundabouts compared with before, although the proportion of older drivers on these roads was very small. Adding features to roundabouts to make them easier to navigate such as advanced warning signs and directional signs may encourage older drivers to choose routes with roundabouts as opposed to conventional intersections. Lord, D.; Van Schalkwyk, I.; Chrysler, S.; and Staplin, L. 2007 A strategy to reduce older driver injuries at intersections using more accommodating roundabout design practices. Accident Analysis and Prevention 39:427-32.
- 17 Are alternatives to driving available for older people?
Better and more widely available alternatives to driving for older people, particularly in rural communities, are needed. In a national telephone survey, public transportation was the usual mode of transportation for 5 percent of all adults 75 and older and for 14 percent of adults 75 and older who did not drive. Ritter, A.S.; Straight, A.; and Evans, E. 2002. Understanding senior transportation: report and analysis of a survey of consumers age 50+. Washington, DC: American Association of Retired Persons. However, public transportation is not available everywhere. In some places, community-based systems such as van programs and volunteer drivers help fill the gap.