NHTSA has long been involved in research efforts regarding older drivers. Over the last several years, NHTSA's focus has shifted from all older drivers to attempts to identify those older drivers and pedestrians who have problems. Safety is the first priority, with mobility a strong second.

In November of 1999, the Transportation Research Board held a conference (Transportation in an Aging Society: A Decade of Experience) to establish the state of knowledge concerning the transportation issues of older people and to explore how that knowledge has changed over the last decade. Participants at that conference generated a prioritized, unfiltered list of research and implementation ideas. This list included over 50 possible research topics. Many fell within the NHTSA mission, but some clearly did not, and many required a scope of effort that would be beyond the budget available for this line of research.

The Center for Applied Research was asked to use the November 1999 conference list as a starting point to generate a list of research projects that fall within NHTSA's mission and have the greatest potential impact on safety. The ultimate goal was to formulate a strategic research plan for NHTSA's Office of Research and Traffic Records. For planning purposes, an annual budget of about $500,000 was assumed for a seven-year time frame ($3.5M total).

The strategic research plan was to be developed through the preparation of a Literature Review, the meeting of an Expert Panel, the development of Problem Statements, and the creation of Prioritization Schemes.

A Literature Review was prepared and is included as an appendix to this report. It concentrated on advances in the last 10 years, and aimed for breadth rather than depth of coverage. The review provided a brief, readable summary of research efforts aimed at the at-risk population. The audience was the panel of experts to be convened in November, 2000. The review was intended to give these panelists a common frame of reference when discussing projects, and was not intended to be an exhaustive review for the general population.

The Literature Review was also used to identify additional research and implementation projects. These potential projects included efforts in previously examined areas and new research/implementation topics. These, as well as the previously-generated potential research and implementation projects, are presented in tabular form.

An Expert Panel was convened to discuss and evaluate potential projects. The meeting was designed to elicit raw information which would later be used to develop prioritization schemes for research planning. The members of the Panel included top representatives from the fields of traffic engineering, human factors, traffic safety, aging, geriatrics, law enforcement, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), and AARP.

The Expert Panel reviewed the previously-generated list of potential projects, generated additional potential projects, and prioritized the projects (High, Medium, and Low Priority) according to the importance of safety urgency, practicality and feasibility. 19 projects received a High Priority rating from the Expert Panel members. Panel members voted on these High Priority projects to establish a rough relative priority.

When multiple studies addressed a common topic or issue, the Expert Panel members often decided to “fold them together” as packages. A project package (with multiple studies) was then treated as a unit. Panelists suggested that these projects might be later “folded out” again, either individually or in subpackages, for prioritization.

The Expert Panel recommended a variety of research efforts to enhance safety. In general, the Expert Panel recommended continued investigation of screening and assessment issues, development of training for law enforcement, evaluation of driver retraining programs, and development of public information and education efforts. Among others, efforts were recommended to examine effects on safety caused by such diverse issues as medication use, medical conditions including early-stage dementia, and ITS technology use. Panelists also recommended examinations of mobility alternatives, and a general information-gathering effort through the National Personal Transportation Survey.

As recommended by the Expert Panel, large multi-study packages were redivided into subpackages. A subpackage could be a single study, but more commonly was formed by a small number of individual studies which shared a common issue or method. These subpackages formed smaller packages than the large packages folded together by the Expert Panel.

Using information gathered from the potential project descriptions, the Literature Review, and the Expert Panel, problem statements were generated for each High Priority project. Problem statements list a Title, Problem, Objective/s, Related Work, and Cost for each project.

Using the information and recommendations given by the Expert Panel, as well as information from the Literature Review, three Prioritization Schemes were developed. Each prioritization is described briefly and is illustrated by a Gantt chart, which presents a timeline and funding levels for the projects over a 7-year span.

The Strict Vote-Based Prioritization strictly followed the votes given by the Expert Panel (votes were cast on the basis of safety urgency, practicality and feasibility). The top-voted projects were assigned highest priority. The projects were spaced out through the 7-year time frame.

The Diversification Strategy gave greater emphasis to the cost of individual projects. If top prioritization were assigned to a few very large projects, given budget limitations, a single expensive project could tie up all available resources in a given calendar year. This would limit the type of outcomes that could be produced. In order to diversify the investment in different research areas, lower-cost projects, from a wider range of topic areas, were assigned a higher priority. In order to spread out the investment, overlapping topic areas were limited. If two projects covered the same topic area, the less-expensive project was recommended. It is clear that a greater number of projects is funded in this approach: giving up a large project enables the funding of several smaller investigations.

The Topic Coverage Prioritization examined high-priority projects in terms of topic coverage. This scheme maximizes coverage of high-priority topic areas, with a special emphasis on feasibility. Overlap of topics was minimized, with attention paid to topic coverage rather than cost. In general, less emphasis was placed on retaining multi-study packages in their entirety. When subpackages or individual studies assisted in topic coverage, they were “folded back out” and assigned to the timeline.