As the highway construction industry gets caught up in the public relations battle over issues such as sprawl, smart growth and funding levels, it is most important that our industry continue to emphasize issues such as roadway safety.
Overall, traffic fatalities dropped from 47,087 in 1988 to 41,471 in 1998. But 41,000 deaths a year on our nation’s highways is still way too many lives—especially when we know there are roadway safety improvements that can be made that are proven ways to reduce accidents and save lives.
The Road Information Program (TRIP) and other highway industry groups have increased the focus in this area in recent years. TRIP issued news releases and talked about the need for roadway safety improvements as part of our emphasis on the need for increased funding for TEA-21. Along with other groups, we have emphasized the fact that roadway conditions play a role in 30%of all traffic fatalities—that’s 12,000 lives a year!
We have talked about the way to make those safety improvements through methods such as adding medians, widening shoulders and lanes and removing roadside obstacles. TRIP recently found another way to get public attention on roadway safety. We analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and determined that, while overall traffic fatalities are dropping, the number of older drivers, aged 70 and above, involved in fatal traffic accidents has increased by 333since 1988.
We issued a news release and contacted the media. In our release, we pointed out that recent federal reports on the needs of older drivers have found that the aging process gradually leads to reduced visual acuity, slower reaction times, losses in information processing ability and reduced neck and upper body flexibility.
We also pointed out that, in general, older motorists are safe drivers who recognize their own limitations, but a variety of recent federal reports have documented that the most difficult aspects for older drivers are issues related to intersections, merging and weaving and interpreting a variety of traffic signs and signals. In fact, for drivers aged 80 and above, more than half of all fatal accidents occur at intersections, compared to one in four for drivers less than 50 years old.