Older driver fatality rate on the rise

News TRIP July 24, 2003
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The number of older drivers - aged 70 and above - killed in crashes nationwide increased by 27% from 1991 to 2001, as Americans

The number of older drivers - aged 70 and above - killed in crashes nationwide increased by 27% from 1991 to 2001, as Americans are maintaining their mobile lifestyles as they age, according to a new report released today by a national nonprofit transportation research group.


The Road Information Program (TRIP) report, "Designing Roadways to


Safely Accommodate the Increasingly Mobile Older Driver: A Plan to Allow


Older Americans to Maintain their Independence," found that daily travel


for the average older American increased 28% from 1995 to 2001, from 29 minutes to 37 minutes per day.


"Older Americans, like all Americans, are driving more as they go about


their busy lives. While many older drivers avoid peak-hour and night


travel, there are also a number of roadway safety improvements that


would help older drivers safely navigate traffic when they do choose to


drive," said William M. Wilkins, TRIP's executive director. "These


roadway safety improvements include wider lanes and shoulders, improved


lighting, adding left-turn lanes at intersections and larger lettering


on less complex signage."


TRIP's older driver fatality figures are based on new National Highway


Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data. The roadway safety


improvements identified by TRIP are primarily based on The Older Driver


Highway Design Handbook published by the Federal Highway Administration.


Older drivers are defined in this study as persons aged 70 or older,


based on the age when most people start to experience some diminished


physical capabilities, such as vision, hearing, reaction times and


flexibility.


There were 3,164 older drivers killed in crashes in 2001, compared to


2,494 in 1991 - a 27% increase. At the same time, overall traffic


fatalities increased less than one percent over the same period, from


41,462 to 42,116.


Older drivers are increasingly mobile, driving an average of 15.3 miles


per day in 2001 compared to 12.7 miles daily in 1995, according to the


recently released National Household Travel Survey (NHTS). Most


Americans also continue to drive as they age, with 75% of


Americans aged 70 and above reporting they still drove in 2001, up from


73% in 1995, according to the survey.


The latest data indicates that older drivers are far more likely than


other drivers to be involved in a fatal accident at an intersection. The


data shows that 50% of all older driver fatalities in 2001 occurred at intersections, while only 23% of younger driver fatalities (those 69 and under) occurred at intersections, according to NHTSA data. Left-hand turns are more problematic for older drivers, as they must make speed, distance and gap judgments in a limited amount of time in order to enter or cross the through roadway. Small or complex signage may be or not seen quickly enough to alert older motorists about upcoming exits, obstacles or changes in traffic patterns.


TRIP recommends the following comprehensive set of safety improvements for improving older driver safety:

Signage and lighting:


* Clearer and less complex signage that is easier to

follow;


* Larger lettering on signs and larger pavement markings; and

* Better street lighting, particularly at intersections.

Intersections:


* Bright, luminous lane markings;

* Overhead indicators for turning lanes;

* Overhead street signs; and

* Adding or widening left-turn lanes.


Streets and Highways:


* Wider lanes and shoulders to reduce the consequences of

driving mistakes;


* Longer merge and exit lanes;

* Rumble strips to warn motorists when they are running

off roads;


* Curves that are not as sharp;

* Improvements to pedestrian features at intersections;

* Improved intersection design; and

* Improved standards for acceptable stopping and reaction

sight distances.



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