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Safety For Aging Drivers

The United States faces a unique challenge in transportation, driven by its growing senior population. Health and medical advances make it possible for people to live longer, and the baby boomers are moving toward their retirement years. Today, 35 million Americans are age 65 or older – about 13 percent of the population. By 2030, this number will double, to 70 million people. One in five Americans will be 65 or older.

To date the nation has taken small steps to begin addressing the significant transportation needs of its changing population. Without continued and additional attention to these needs we could experience an increase in the number of older people killed in crashes and leave some stranded in their suburban or rural homes.

Without improvement in highways, vehicles, and user programs, the nation will face difficulty in providing safe transportation for its older population. According to data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), the nation’s safety efforts over the last two decades have resulted in significant reductions in fatality rates from highway crashes for all age groups under age 65. The rates for older persons, however, have declined far more modestly, despite substantial reductions over the last 5 years. Continued safety improvements for our older drivers and pedestrians need to be implemented to counter the potential for a major increase in older driver fatalities by 2030, as the elderly population doubles and drives far more miles than the present older generation.

Older Americans, like their younger counterparts, depend on the automobile for the bulk of their travel. For most, it is the private automobile that provides them with independence, enables them to get to essential services, and satisfies their need for social contact – it is pivotal to their quality of life. Most older adults continue to live in the same homes or locales where they lived when they retired, close to family and friends, leading active lives, aging in place in familiar surroundings. When physical or mental limitations make it difficult to drive safely, most older adults gradually and responsibly withdraw from driving. At that point, many find themselves isolated from the activities that had filled their lives, especially if they live in suburban or rural areas where walking is difficult and non-driving transportation options scarce. Such isolation can seriously undermine the quality of life for older people and accelerate declines in health.

To provide safe mobility in the future, managers of our transportation system must lead the nation on many fronts: safer roadways, safer automobiles, better alternative transportation services, and improved competency of older drivers. Creative new partnerships are needed between stakeholders, including government at all levels, older persons themselves, their caregivers, social service agencies, automakers, insurance companies, commercial carriers, and local businesses. All of these groups need to anticipate the coming era and become an integral part of the response.

Based on a series of regional forums, focus groups, conferences, and stakeholder roundtables held over the last several years, the following vision of our future transportation system evolved:

    A transportation system that offers safe mobility to all people and allows older persons to remain independent and to age in place. Investments in highway and pedestrian infrastructure and public transportation services support independence. Medical and social service communities, transportation managers, motor vehicle administrators, and caregivers work together to extend safe driving and to offer other convenient and affordable transportation options when driving and walking must be curtailed. Public and private organizations form new partnerships to enable all citizens to enjoy safe mobility for life.

Fulfillment of this vision will require a concerted effort by our political leaders and the community of professionals who have an interest in the continued independence of older adults. The nation’s transportation infrastructure and vehicle fleet are massive and will require many years to change.

To achieve this vision over the next 10 to 15 years progress is needed in the following areas:

    Safer, easier-to-use roadways and walkways

    New roadway designs that better accommodate the needs and limitations of older drivers and pedestrians, including land use that minimizes auto dependence and facilitates aging in place.

    Safer, easier-to-use automobiles

    More effective protection systems for fragile older occupants; better understanding of the interaction between older drivers and vehicle systems that utilize new technologies to meet the needs and limitations of older drivers and occupants.

    Improved systems for assessing competency of older drivers and pedestrians

    Better understanding of the characteristics that cause older drivers to be at increased risk; more effective procedures for identifying, assessing, training, rehabilitating, and regulating functionally limited drivers; better understanding of how to enable people with functional disabilities to walk safely.

    Better, easier-to-use public transportation services

    Public transportation systems that facilitate wider use by older people, including one-call-does-it-all mobility managers; evaluation and promulgation of best practices; elimination of programmatic barriers to coordinated delivery of transportation services; and intercity travel that is more elder friendly.

    Targeted state and local action plans

    Formation of state and local action plans that will provide safe transportation for an aging populace.

    Better public information

    A comprehensive campaign to educate older people and their caregivers on how to identify unsafe older drivers; information for health and social service groups to equip them to address and extend the safe transportation needs of older people.

    Basic and social policy research

    Research on the effect that loss of mobility can have on the quality of life of older people, on potential, related health-care costs, and on ways to reduce the transportation problems of older people through technological and other solutions.

No single organization alone can assume the responsibility of meeting the safety needs of our maturing society. Responsibility must be shared, for success requires the actions and resources of many diverse interests: federal agencies, Congress, states, counties, municipalities, health and social service professions, and the private sector.

This information came from a
US DOT online article.

*** Any law, statute, regulation or other precedent is subject to change at any time ***

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