7. Older Drivers
In 2003, almost 15 percent of licensed drivers in the United States were at least 65 years old. By 2030 this proportion will rise to at least 20 percent. As drivers age, their physical and mental abilities, driving behaviors, and crash risks all change, though age itself does not determine driving performance. Many features of the current system of roads, traffic signals and controls, laws, licensing practices, and vehicles were not designed to accommodate older drivers. Older Americans are increasingly dependent on driving to maintain their mobility, independence, and health. The challenge is to balance mobility for older drivers with safety for all road users.
Trends. From 1982 to 2003, the proportion of older licensed drivers (65 and above) rose from 11.2 percent to 14.6 percent while the proportion of older drivers in fatal crashes rose more rapidly, from 7.0 percent to 11.2 percent.
People 65 and older; number and proportion of total populations
By 2030, the Census Bureau estimates that the resident population over age 65 will double, to over 71 million, and will comprise 19.1 percent of the total population. The licensed driver population likely will grow even faster. The proportion of people over age 65 who held a driver's license rose from 63 percent in 1982 to 80 percent in 2003. If the licensure rate remains at 80 percent, by 2030 there will be twice as many older drivers in the United States as there are today - as many as 57 million licensed drivers 65 and older. Currently 90 percent of people 65 to 69 are licensed, as are 86 percent of people 70 to 74. The licensure rate probably will increase because tomorrow's older people likely will be healthier and more accustomed to driving than today's. By 2030, if 85 percent of older people are licensed there will be 61 million licensed drivers at least 65 years old.
Older driver characteristics. Certain changes are inevitable as drivers age (NCHRP, 2004, Section III).
These characteristics produce the following results.
The overall goal is to enable older drivers to retain as much mobility through driving as is consistent with safety on the road for themselves, their passengers, and other road users. "Safe mobility for life" is the phrase used in the U.S. Department of Transportation's plan (USDOT, 2003). Four behavioral strategies address this goal.
Vehicular, environmental, and societal strategies are critical to provide safety and mobility for older people. Vehicles can be designed with better crash protection for older and more easily injured occupants, with controls and displays that are easier to see and understand, and with crash warning and crash avoidance technology. These measures will make vehicles safer for everyone, not just older people. Aftermarket vehicle devices such as one-hand joystick driving controls can permit people with some physical limitations to drive. Roadways with separate left turn lanes, protected left turn signal phases, larger and more-visible signage, more-visible lane markings, rumble strips, and a host of other measures will assist all drivers. These subjects are not discussed in this guide because they do not fall under direct SHSO jurisdiction.
Of all the problem areas in this guide, the older driver problem is perhaps the most complex because it involves so many issues beyond traffic safety. Sooner or later, in the interest of safety, most older drivers must restrict or eliminate driving. Frequently, this has substantial effects on the older driver's mobility and on physical and mental health. SHSOs and licensing agencies cannot act alone but must plan and implement their older driver policies and programs as part of integrated community activities to improve older people' safety, mobility, and health. As just one example, some communities have established referral centers where people can go for "one-stop" access to resources for addressing the full range of transportation safety and mobility issues, including driving skills assessment, educational courses, licensing regulations and practices, and public transportation. See Stutts (2005, Chapter 8) for summaries of comprehensive programs for older drivers in five States.
Several recent studies and policy papers discuss the issues involved. See in particular the Department of Transportation's Safe Mobility for a Maturing Society: Challenges and Opportunities (USDOT, 2003) and NCHRP's Guide for Addressing Collisions Involving Older Drivers (NCHRP, 2004) for excellent summaries and references to further information. OECD's Ageing and Transport: Mobility Needs and Safety Issues (OECD, 2001) presents a discussion from a European perspective. The recent NCHRP synthesis, Improving the Safety of Older Road Users (Stutts, 2005), summarizes State activities as of 2005.
Countermeasures to improve older driver safety are listed below and discussed individually in this chapter. The table is intended to give a rough estimate of each countermeasure's effectiveness, use, cost, and time required for implementation. The terms used are described below. Effectiveness, cost, and time to implement can vary substantially from State to State and community to community. Costs for many countermeasures are difficult to measure, so the summary terms are very approximate. See each countermeasure discussion for more information.
1. Communications and Outreach
3. Traffic Law Enforcement
Effectiveness is measured by reductions in crashes or injuries unless noted otherwise.
See individual countermeasure descriptions for information on effectiveness size and how effectiveness is measured.
Cost to implement:
Time to implement:
These estimates do not include the time required to enact legislation or establish policies.