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Intersection Safety Issue Briefs

Issue Brief 10

Older Road Users at Intersections

November 2009
FHWA-SA-10-005

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In the next 30 years, there will be a significant shift in the demographic profile of the United States according to U.S. Census Bureau projections. The U.S. population 65 or older was 12.5 percent in 2007. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 20.4 percent of the population will be 65 or older by 2040, an increase of approximately 70 percent.2 The overall demographic shift is shown in Figure 1 for the years 2000 and 2040.

Graph shows breakdown of U.S. population by age in 2000, when the majority of the population were baby boomers aged 35 to 45.
Figure 1: Population by age and sex: 2000
Note: The reference population for these data is the resident population.
Source: He, Wan, Manisha Sengupta, Victoria A. Velkoff, and Kimberly A. DeBarros, U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P23-209, 65+ in the United States: 2005, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 2005.

Graph shows projected breakdown of hte U.S. population by age in 2040, when baby boomers, who will be age 75 and older, will make up some 20 percent of the population.
Figure 2: Population by age and sex: 2040
Note: The reference population for these data is the resident population.
Source: He, Wan, Manisha Sengupta, Victoria A. Velkoff, and Kimberly A. DeBarros, U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P23-209, 65+ in the United States: 2005, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 2005.

This historical trend of the older population increasing faster than the general population will continue through the 21st century. The most recent census projections indicate a 78 percent increase of the older population while the total population increases 18 percent between 2010 and 2030.3

Overview – Older Road Users

Most Americans are dependent on the automobile to satisfy their mobility needs, especially in suburban and rural areas of the country. According to national transportation survey data, 90 percent of trips taken by older adults are by personal vehicle. Of that 90 percent, 70 percent involve the older adult driving the vehicle.4

The increased likelihood of an older road user being injured or killed in a crash is the real safety concern. Compared with an overall fatality rate of 2 per 1,000 crashes, persons ages 65 to 74 have a fatality rate of 3.2. For those 75 to 84, the rate is 5.3, and at 85 and above it climbs to 8.6.5 Examining safety from a fatality per licensed driver (Figure 3) or per mile traveled (Figure 4) perspective; the increase is dramatic for older road users. This is largely due to increased susceptibility to injury, particularly chest injuries, and medical complications among older drivers rather than an increased tendency to get into crashes.6

Fatalities per 1,000 Licensed Drivers by Age of Driver. Graph shows nearly .30 fatalities per 1,000 drivers in the 16-19 age group and more than .30 fatalities in the 85+ age group. The data make a U-shape as driver age progresses, with fatalities being very high among the youngest drivers and decreasing until the age of 45-54, then increasing again among older drivers.
Figure 3: Fatalities per 1,000 Licensed Drivers by Age of Driver
Source: National Cooperative Highway Research Program. Report 500: Guidance for Implementation of the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan, Volume 9: A Guide for Reducing Collisions Involving Older Drivers. Transportation Research Board, Washington, DC. 2004, pg. III-2.

Fatalities per 100 Million Vehicle Miles by Age of Driver. Graph shows that fatalaties among drivers in the 16-19 age group are relatively high, at 3 per million VMT, a number which declines as drivers age up until they reach 45-54 years of age, when fatalities are less than 1 per million VMT. Fatalities decrease dramatically as drivers continue to age, however, with nearly 4 fatalities per million VMT occurring among 75-84 year olds and more than 8 fatalities per million VMT occurring among those 85 years and older.
Figure 4: Fatalities per 100 Million Vehicle Miles by Age of Driver
Source: National Cooperative Highway Research Program. Report 500: Guidance for Implementation of the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan, Volume 9: A Guide for Reducing Collisions Involving Older Drivers. Transportation Research Board, Washington, DC. 2004, pg. III-2.

The rate of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people in 2007 was almost twice as high for people 70 and older combined (2.7 per 100,000) than for those younger than 70 combined (1.4 per 100,000).7

In 2007, 2,202 of 8,703 fatalities at intersections (25 percent) involved older persons, while older persons make up only 12.4 percent of the resident U.S. population as shown in Table 1. Older persons are overrepresented by a factor of 2:1 for the over 65 age group. For the over-85 age group, there is an overrepresentation of 3 to 1 in intersection fatalities compared to the age group.

Table 1: Older Population as Related to Older Person Intersection Fatalities
Age Group Population Intersection Fatalities
Number Percentage Number Percentage Over-representation Factor
Age 65-74 population 19,051 6.3 818 9.4 1.49
Age 75-84 population 13,138 4.3 931 10.7 2.49
Age 85+ 5,334 1.7 453 5.2 3.06
Total 37,523 12.4 2,202 25.5 2.06
Note: 19 fatalities are unknown and are not included in the total percentage calculation.


Issues Facing Older Road Users

Each person ages differently. As age increases, older people develop physical, sensory, and cognitive limitations that often restrict their ability to drive, walk, or use public transportation. Illnesses, medications, and impairments make it difficult for them to use the transportation they need. Aging affects a variety of skills needed for safe driving. Challenges that commonly affect a person's mobility as they age include the following:

Today's generation of older Americans drive farther and more often. While older drivers are among the safest road users, the aging process makes driving safely more difficult for some. At the same time increasing frailty put older road users at greater risk of serious injury.

The intersection environment requires complex perception-reaction and speed-distance judgments under time constraints for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and drivers. This scenario for intersection operations can be more problematic for older road users than for their younger counterparts. Highway design and traffic controls can be improved to better meet the aging population's needs.

Policy, Program and Project Development Considerations

To address issues associated with older road users, multiple strategies should be developed within an agency to organize and focus efforts. Those strategies may include:

During the project development phase of each project involving new construction or reconstruction of an existing intersection, practitioners should seek answers to the following questions:

Engineering Applications To Support Older Road Users

The solutions to reduce older road user crashes incorporated into this briefing sheet have been sourced from the FHWA Older Driver Design Handbook, AARP Planning for Complete Streets for an Aging America, and National Cooperative Highway Research Program Report 500, Vol. 9: A Guide for Reducing Collisions Involving Older Drivers. These solutions should benefit all road users, not just older people. It is acknowledged that intersection projects may have constraints, such as high construction costs, the need for additional right-of-way, local access management requirements, sight distance and other issues that may preclude the use of the suggested solutions. In all cases, professional engineering judgment must be used to determine the use or non-use of a particular solution set.

Design

Traffic Control Signs

Pavement Markings

Traffic Signal Operations

Traffic Signal Hardware

Resources

FHWA Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways. 2003. http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov.

Safe Mobility for Older People Notebook. http://www.aaafoundation.org/pdf/external/SafeMobility.pdf.

University of Michigan, Transportation Research Institute: Promising Approaches for Enhancing Elderly Mobility. http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/handle/2027.42/1536.

University of Florida: Florida Senior Safety Resource Center. http://fssrc.phhp.ufl.edu/.

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety: Senior Driver Web Site. http://www.seniordrivers.org/home/.

AAA National: AAA Road Wise Review: A Tool to Help Seniors Drive Safely Longer. http://www.aaapublicaffairs.com/Main/Default.asp?CategoryID=3&SubCategoryID=38&ContentID=315.

University of Michigan, Transportation Research Institute: Driving Decisions Workbook. http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/handle/2027.42/1321.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Active Aging Programs. http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/olddrive/.

American Society on Aging (ASA): Road Map to Driving Wellness. http://asaging.org/cdc/module4/home.cfm.

AARP Older Driver Safety. http://www.aarp.org/families/driver_safety/.

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety: Older Driver Involvement in Injury Crashes in Texas, 1975-1999. http://www.aaafoundation.org/multimedia/presentations/SeniorInjury.pdf.

U.S. DOT, Safe Mobility for a Maturing Society: Challenges and Opportunities, November 2003. http://www.eyes.uab.edu/safemobility/SafeMobility.pdf.

NCHRP REPORT 500: Guidance for Implementation of the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan, Volume 9: A Guide for Reducing Collisions Involving Older Drivers, 2004. http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_500v9.pdf.

AARP Public Policy Institute: Planning Complete Streets for an Aging America.

NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts: Older Population. http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/facts_stats/.

FHWA Intersection Fatality Comparison 2006 vs. 2007. http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/crash_facts/docs/inter_fats05_06.pdf.

U.S. Census Bureau: Historical Population Estimates. http://www.census.gov/statab/hist/HS-01.pdf.

FHWA Older Driver Highway Design Handbook. Jan. 1998. Publication FHWA-RD-97-135. http://ntl.bts.gov/DOCS/older/home/.

ITE Traffic Engineering Handbook, 6th Edition. 2009.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey Data. Atlanta (GA): Department of Health and Human Services (US). CDC; 1997. [cited 2002 June 1]. http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/brfss/page.asp?yr=1997&state=US&cat=IC#IC.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [Online]. (2006). National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (producer). http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars.

Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2010. Second Edition. With understanding and improving health and objectives for improving health. 2 vols. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office; 2000.

Hakamies-Blomquist L. Safety of Older Persons in Traffic in Transportation in an Aging Society: A Decade of Experience. Technical Papers and Reports from a Conference: Bethesda, MD; Nov. 7-9, 1999. Washington, DC, Transportation Research Board; 2004.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Fatality facts, older people. Arlington, VA: IIHS; 2007. http://www.iihs.org/research/fatality_facts_2007/olderpeople.html [cited 2006 Nov 21].

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Department of Transportation. Traffic Safety Facts 2007: Older Population. Washington, DC: NHTSA; 2008. http://www.nhtsa.gov/portal/site/nhtsa/menuitem.31176b9b03647a189ca8e410dba046a0/.

Owsley C. Driver Capabilities in Transportation in an Aging Society: A Decade of Experience. Technical Papers and Reports from a Conference: Bethesda, MD; Nov. 7-9, 1999. Washington, DC, Transportation Research Board; 2004.


Footnotes:

1U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2005-2007 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates, Table S0101. Age and Sex. http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/STTable?_bm=y&-state=st&-qr_name=ACS_2007_3YR_G00_S0101&-ds_name=ACS_2007_3YR_G00_&-redoLog=false&-_caller=geoselect&-geo_id=01000US&-format=&-_lang=en

2 He, Wan, Manisha Sengupta, Victoria A. Velkoff, and Kimberly A. DeBarros, U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P23-209, 65+ in the United States:2005, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 2005. Figure 2.6: Percent Aged 65 and Over of the Total Population: 2000 to 2050, pg. 13. Original Source: Percent Aged 65 and Over of the Total Population: 2000 to 2050.

3 Ibid.

4National Cooperative Highway Research Program. Report 500: Guidance for Implementation of the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan, Volume 9: A Guide for Reducing Collisions Involving Older Drivers. Transportation Research Board, Washington, DC 2004, pg. III-1.

5 Ibid.

6 Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, Fatality Facts: Older People http://www.iihs.org/research/fatality_facts_2007/olderpeople.html.

7 FHWA, Office of Safety. Older Road Users Web Page. http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/older_users/#training.

8National Cooperative Highway Research Program. Report 500: Guidance for Implementation of the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan, Volume 9: A Guide for Reducing Collisions Involving Older Drivers. Transportation Research Board, Washington, DC 2004, pg. II-1.

9 Ibid.

10 Lynott, Jane, et al. Planning Complete Streets for an Aging America, AARP Washington, DC 2009.

11FHWA Final Report, Countdown Pedestrian Signals: A Comparison of Alternative Pedestrian Change Interval Displays, March 2005, Jeremiah Singer, Neil Lerner, Westat, pg.16.



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