In section 2017 of SAFETEA-LU, Congress directed that NHTSA conduct other activities to keep older people safely mobile. To that end, NHTSA will conduct formative research projects that will inform future program activities outside the duration of the authorization. These are important projects that have the potential to change the way the agency approaches older road user safety programs.
- Investigate Long-Term, Post-Crash Medical Outcomes
After 30 days, a crash victim becomes a “survivor” and is considered to be an injury statistic rather than a fatality statistic. Past research shows that older people have longer and more costly recoveries than younger people. This investigation will examine crash data and outcomes related to functional abilities and rehabilitation. Two opposing hypotheses will be tested: do older people settle in for an extended period of disability after a crash, or do they die later than 30 days post-crash without having left hospitalization? There are economic impacts and years of productive life lost that are not well understood. This is a basic research question that may lead to vehicle safety recommendations as well as to program efforts.
- Investigate Technology Applications for Monitoring of Driving Performance
This study will explore the possibility of monitoring a driver’s performance in real time and alerting appropriate public safety officials (e.g., police, licensing) when a threshold of unsafe behaviors has been passed in a given interval. Preliminary research of this nature could prove extremely valuable. Test/retest intervals for older drivers, particularly those with dementia, are difficult to establish because although dementia is a progressive illness, there can be good days and bad days as well as relatively sudden setbacks. Early intervention is a safety benefit because it may prevent the recurrence or continuance of unsafe driving by a medically at-risk driver.