Older Road Users
The Office of Safety is committed to providing a safe environment for older road users, including drivers and pedestrians. Practitioners need to consider differences in vision, fitness and flexibility, and reaction time when designing for older drivers and walkers. The Office of Safety's Older Road User program activities address the engineering aspects of older driver safety.
Facts & Statistics
The following facts are based on analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).
- Motor vehicle crashes account for less than 11 percent of fatalities among people 70 and older; heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death.1 People ages 70 and older are less likely to be licensed to drive compared with younger people, and drivers 70 and older also drive fewer miles. However, older drivers are keeping their licenses longer and driving more miles than in the past.
- Per mile traveled, fatal crash rates increase starting at age 75 and increase markedly after age 80. 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.2 Fragility begins to increase at ages 60-64. At age 75, older drivers begin to be markedly overinvolved in crashes, but fragility is the predominant factor explaining the elevated deaths per mile traveled among older drivers.2
- A total of 3,980 people ages 70 and older died in motor vehicle crashes in 2007. This is 32 percent decline since 1997 when deaths peaked.
- 80 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths in 2009 involving people 70 and older were passenger vehicle occupants, and 14 percent were pedestrians. Since 1975, deaths of older passenger vehicle occupants have increased 36 percent, while deaths of older pedestrians have decreased 57 percent. Although few older adults are killed while riding motorcycles, this number has risen. Almost 18 times as many people 70 years and older were killed on motorcycles in 2007 than in 1975 when there were far fewer motorcycles on the market and motorcycle drivers of all ages.
- In 2009 motor vehicle crash deaths per capita among males and females began to increase markedly starting at ages 75-79. Across all age groups males had substantially higher death rates than females.
- Based on travel data collected between April 2001 and March 2002, the rate of passenger vehicle fatal crash involvements per 100 million miles traveled was higher for drivers 80 and older than for drivers of any other age group except teenagers. Drivers 85 and older had the highest rate of fatal crash involvement. Among passenger vehicle drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2009, the proportion in multiple-vehicle crashes at intersections increased as driver age increased starting at ages 70-74. Multiple-vehicle crashes at intersections accounted for 39 percent of fatal crash involvements among drivers 80 and older.
- The rate of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people in 2009 was almost 1.7 as higher for people 70 and older combined (per 100,000) than for those younger than 70 combined (per 100,000). For all age groups the rate of pedestrian deaths per capita was higher for males than females.
- Five percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers 70 years and older in 2007 had blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) at or above 0.08 percent, compared with 17 percent for drivers ages 60-69 and 43 percent for drivers ages 16 to 59.
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Engineering Guidance and Training
A Guide for Reducing Collisions Involving Older Drivers
Published in 2004 as part of NCHRP Report 500: Guidance for Implementation of the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan, this guide outlines a variety of strategies that can assist State and local transportation agencies with addressing older drivers' special needs while improving safety for all road users.
Highway Design Handbook for Older Drivers and Pedestrians
This 2001 handbook was written for highway designers, engineers, and highway safety specialists. The handbook provides guidance on how to accommodate the declining functional capabilities of the older road users with effective road design practices and engineering enhancements. FHWA Pub. No. RD-01-103.
Guidelines and Recommendations to Accommodate Older Drivers and Pedestrians
A companion to the Highway Design Handbook for Older Drivers and Pedestrians, this Guidelines and Recommendations document incorporates new research findings and technical developments; and extensive practitioner input. Guidance on how and when to implement the included recommendations is included, as well as codes that indicate at a glance the relationship of each recommendation with standard design manuals, including the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) and the AASHTO Green Book. FHWA Pub. No. RD-01-05.
Pocket Guide to Improve Traffic Control and Mobility for our Older Population
This Pocket Guide assists transportation professionals in making decisions about the use of traffic control devices, taking into account the unique needs of the Nation's older road users.
Older Driver and Pedestrian Design Workshop
The FHWA offers a 1-day training workshop to thoroughly review the recommendations and guidelines contained in the Highway Design Handbook for Older Drivers and Pedestrians. Interactive methods are used to help participants fully understand the changes that occur with aging. Modifications to the roadway system are identified that can make it easier for older drivers and all drivers. Case studies are used during the workshop. The workshop is designed primarily practicing highway and traffic engineers responsible for highway design and operations. For additional information, contact Gene Amparano, or contact the Federal Highway Division Office in your State.
Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices
The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, or MUTCD, defines the standards used by road managers nationwide to install and maintain traffic control devices on all streets and highways. The Manual is important as it provides national traffic control standards for all public roads, and includes traffic signals, signs, roadway stencils, pedestrian crossings, and bicycle and pedestrian treatments. The Highway Design Handbook for Older Drivers and Pedestrians, being updated this year, is provided leading research information which may, as verified and tested, become standards in the MUTCD in future years. The MUTCD is published by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) under 23 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 655, Subpart F. Proposed Amendments to the MUTCD in regards to Sign Retroreflectivity will close on July 31, 2008. The proposed MUTCD text, figures, and tables are also available for public review and comment.
The electronic version of the MUTCD 2003 Edition with Revisions 1 and 2 incorporated is the most current edition on the MUTCD Web site and is the official FHWA publication. FHWA is not printing copies of the MUTCD because of the prohibitive costs involved. The web site version is also more efficient and reliable when revising the MUTCD. National organizations have partnered and printed hard copies of the MUTCD. These hard copies are available for sale. Go to ATSSA, ITE, or AASHTO to get sales information.
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Federal and State Older Road User Programs
Government Accountability Office (GA0)
Report to the Special Committee on Aging, U.S. Senate (April 2007) OLDER DRIVER SAFETY Knowledge Sharing Should Help States Prepare for Increase in Older Driver Population
Highlights of GAO-07-413, a report to the Special Committee on Aging, U.S. Senate, reports on (1) what the federal government has done to promote practices to make roads safer for older drivers and the extent to which states have implemented those practices, (2) the extent to which states assess the fitness of older drivers and what support the federal government has provided, and (3) what initiatives selected states have implemented to improve the safety of older drivers.
NHTSA Older Driver Program Web Site
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)'s Older Driver program focuses on public education and traffic law enforcement issues. Their Web site includes a series of handbooks for older drivers with specific medical conditions and other useful public information.
Transportation Research Board of the National Academies – Committee on the Safe Mobility of Older Persons
Transportation Research Board (Committee ANB60)
Scope: Stimulate quality research and evaluation, provide a forum for interested researchers and practitioners to disseminate research and related information to those involved and interested in improving the safety and mobility of older drivers.
FHWA Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center—Safety Research
The FHWA's highway safety research is conducted by the Turner Fairbank Highway Research Center, which is the research arm of the FHWA. The Office of Safety works closely with the Office of Safety Research at Turner-Fairbank to develop and conduct research, and to implement research recommendations through the development of practical tools and guidance for practitioners and decision makers.
Pedestrian Bicycle Information Center of Highway Safety Research Center at the University of North Carolina
Since its inception in 1999, PBIC’s mission has been to improve the quality of life in communities through the increase of safe walking and bicycling as a viable means of transportation and physical activity.
Educating Older Pedestrians
Most older pedestrians are in good physical condition. They are out on foot, walking for business or pleasure or to maintain their health. Most have many years of healthy life ahead. Still, they are fragile. Being struck by a car is often a death sentence. If they survive the crash, they may be disabled or confined to a nursing home. Older adults are often struck while crossing streets in crosswalks or by drivers making turning movements through crosswalks.
Operations — Elder Road User Program, Florida Department of Transportation
The vision of this program is to provide leadership and serve as a catalyst in becoming the national leader in senior mobility. The mission is to improve the safety, access, and mobility of Florida’s growing elderly population.
Governor’s Office of Highway Safety Association
Mature Driver Laws
More and more Americans are outliving their ability to drive safely. Because of this, states have been changing their licensing laws to address license renewal for drivers above a certain age.
28 States and the District of Columbia have special provisions for mature drivers and strategies included in their Strategic Highway Safety Plans.
These provisions can include:
- Increased frequency of renewals
- Restricting or prohibiting mail-in or electronic renewals
- Vision and road tests
- Letters from physician and/or optometrist attesting to competency
State Reference and Reply Link
States do not often know what other states are doing regarding older drivers and pedestrians. This link provides them with a link to all states with such a program. Keeping up with new programs and information will keep states more aware of older driver and pedestrian research and practices.
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Are You an Older Driver?
Would you like to do a questionnaire to help you locate those areas where your physical and cognitive abilities call for a change in your driving habits and skills?
See this interactive AAA quiz with results and suggestions to make you a safer driver. Also the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Senior Driver Website (http://www.seniordrivers.org/home/) includes tips and guides on staying safe on the road, concentrating on specific issues with which many seniors have difficulty.
National Center on Senior Transportation
The National Center on Senior Transportation is funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration and with guidance from the U.S. Administration on Aging. NCST is administered by Easter Seals Inc. in partnership with the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a).
American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Public Policy Institute has done a considerable amount of research into older driver transportation needs, habits, physical limitations, and dependency on automobiles. Their Website on Older Drivers and Automobile Safety reports on what older drives need to know to drive safely.
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Articles on Older Road Users and Pedestrians
Public Roads Magazine
Public Roads is the bimonthly magazine of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Reading Public Roads is the easiest way to keep up-to-date on developments in federal highway policies, programs, and research and technology. A number of articles have been reported over the years on Older Drivers.
Public Roads Magazine Older Drivers Series Articles
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
The Mission of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is to identify traffic safety problems, foster research that seeks solutions, and disseminate information and educational materials. The Foundation’s current research projects links to an updated description of the named project, including achieved milestones. Recently completed research projects are listed under the “Completed Projects” header below.
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A Guide for Reducing Collisions Involving Older Drivers