Studies predict that within 15 years, 25% of all drivers on U.S. highways will be age 65 or older. When drivers reach the 75 and older age bracket, the likelihood of their becoming involved in a fatal accident increases greatly. These statistics and facts will present challenges for state governments trying to assure safe highways and for the elders hoping to retain their driving independence for as long as safely possible.
What can states do to assure senior drivers are safe drivers?
States can test senior drivers more frequently. Some states do not allow different testing standards based solely on age, and people do age differently, but more frequent testing around certain birthdays is something states will consider more frequently. This will do little to allay fears seniors have toward Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMV), as one California DMV research study indicated while testing to determine if educational materials mailed to seniors increased driving safety (it didn’t); but it could improve safety by screening out unsafe elder drivers. Is this idea discriminatory?
Improve road design. Today’s roads are far more complicated and busy than what they were years ago.Â A Canadian brochure on the subject outlines a variety of ideas to improve road safety for older drivers. These ideas include:
- improve sight distance at intersections by clearing unnecessary obstructions
- better use of designated turning lanes
- greater use of protected green arrow turn signals
- larger traffic lights and signs
- clear and bright road lines
- longer acceleration lanes for highways
Reporting bad drivers. States can encourage family members, friends, doctors and police to essentially “tattle” on elder drivers they believe are unsafe. This idea makes some feel uncomfortable, but if states successfully push the idea as safety first, both for the individual and other drivers, the concept may take hold and attitudes could change with an active public awareness campaign.
Educate elder drivers. While the California study linked to above did not indicate much success through its limited educational campaign, it was just that – limited. A wide reaching educational campaign targeted at elders and their family members touting safe driving techniques could prove effective, particularly if the ideas focused on ways to continue driving, but staying safe, ideas like those outlined in this post.
Encourage use of public transportation and alternative driving programs. Programs like the Independent Transportation Network are growing and taking hold with our aging population. Expect their growth to continue. Public transportation, disliked by many, may also play a bigger role as drivers get older, but seek to continue being active in their communities. Public transit’s popularity increases each time gasoline prices reach $4 a gallon. It is a reasonable assumption that other factors, like more elder drivers, could increase its use as well.