U.S. Department
of Tranportation

National Highway
Traffic Safety

Addressing the
Safety Issues
Related to
Younger and
Older Drivers

    A Report to Congress
January 19, 1993
on the
Research Agenda
of the
National Highway Traffic Safety

This Report Was Prepared by the
Office of Program Development and Evaluation
Traffic Safety Programs

&nbspTable of Contents  TOC
Executive Summary


CHAPTER 1: Issues Related to Younger and Older Drivers
  1. NHTSA's Research Approach
  2. Congressional Direction
  3. NHTSA Planning Documents
Young Adult Highway Safety Plan
Traffic Safety Plan for Older Persons
  1. Characteristics of Younger and Older Drivers
  2. Involvement in Crashes
    Characteristics of Crashes
    Sources of Risk for Younger Drivers: Problem Behaviors
    Sources of Risk for Older Drivers: Declining Capabilities

CHAPTER 2: Research Agenda for Younger Drivers
  1. Summary of Prior Research
Driver Education
Driver Licensing
Motorcycle Safety
Community Programs
  1. Directions for Current and Future Research
  2. Problem Identification
    Program Development
    Program Evaluation

CHAPTER 3: Research Agenda for Older Drivers
  1. Summary of Prior Research
Medical Limitations
Driver Licensing
Scientific Knowledge Base
What We Know
  1. Directions for Current and Future Research
  2. Problem Identification
    Program Development
    Program Evaluation

List of Figures Figure 1. Number of Licensed Drivers by Age Group
Figure 2. Total Miles of Travel by Age Group
Figure 3. Number of Drivers in Reported Crashes by Age Group
Figure 4. Number of Driver Fatalities by Age Group
Figure 5. Crash Involvement Rate per Thousand Licensed Drivers by Age Group
Figure 6. Crash Involvement Rate per 100 Million Miles VMT by Age Group
Figure 7. Fatality Rate per Thousand Licensed Drivers by Age Group
Figure 8. Fatality Rate per 100 Million Miles Traveled by Age Group
Figure 9. Driver Fragility by Age Group
Figure 10. Number of Crashes by Time of Crash and Age Group
Figure 11. Percent of Crashes by Light Conditions and Age Group
Figure 12. Percent of Crashes by Severity Level and Age Group
Figure 13. Percent of Crashes by Number of Involved Vehicles and Age Group
Figure 14. Percent of Crashes by Relationship to Intersection and Age Group
Figure 15. Percent of Crashes by Vehicle Maneuver and Age Group
Figure 16. Percent of Crashes by Driver Error and Age Group
Figure 17. Percent of Crashes by Driver Use of Alcohol or Drugs and Age Group

&nbspExecutive Summary  Table of Contents

Addressing the Safety Issues Related
to Younger and Older Drivers

Issues Related to Younger and Older Drivers
The Committee on Appropriations of the U.S. Senate, in Senate Report 102-148, requested the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to prepare a report on the Agency's research agenda addressing the safety issues of younger and older drivers. In response to this request, this report covers a variety of issues that affect younger and older drivers, presents a brief overview of past Agency efforts, and provides NHTSA's planned research agenda for each group separately. In this report, "younger" refers to ages 15 through 24, while "older" refers to ages 65 and above.

NHTSA conducts behavioral research to increase safety by improving safe driving actions, and performs biomechanics and human-factors research to increase safety by improving vehicles. Behavioral programs are used by the States and national organizations. Engineering results are implemented through Agency rulemaking actions for vehicle manufacturers.

The Agency has long been aware of the problems of younger drivers and the special needs of older drivers. In developing program activities, NHTSA has formed working relationships with a variety of Federal, State, and private sector organizations, including the Federal Highway Administration, National Institute on Aging, Transportation Research Board, American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, State licensing and driver education agencies, and the American Association of Retired Persons, among others.

Assessment of crash statistics indicates that young driver problems vastly exceed any other age group. On a per-mile basis, older drivers do have a greater fatality rate than other-aged drivers. But by any other measure, young drivers outnumber, out-travel, out-crash, and die more frequently than do older drivers. There are slight differences between younger and older drivers in the types of crashes they experience. For example, young drivers have more speeding and alcohol-related crashes. Older drivers have more right-of-way and turning crashes. Younger driver crashes are frequently caused by inexperience, poor judgment, and risk taking while older driver crashes are more often related to reductions in physical and cognitive capabilities of which the driver is unaware.

Research Agenda For Younger Drivers

Historically, the Agency has worked to improve the safety of young drivers through education and training, licensing procedures, enforcement, and adjudication. Within the recent past, the emphasis has been on alcohol, occupant protection, and community programs.

Future efforts will attempt to improve understanding of unsafe driving by younger drivers, including risk taking behavior, influences of youth culture, and pressure from peers. The Agency will develop programs, activities and procedures, including improved enforcement and adjudication procedures, develop educational materials designed for specific subpopulations of younger drivers, and involve parents to help build safe driving habits in their children. Evaluations will be conducted to assess the impact of programs intended to reduce crashes, including provisional licensing and lower BAC limits for those under age 21.

In addition, research will assess the use of advanced technologies to reduce the crashes of younger drivers. Applications for technology include the use of driving simulators to gather detailed information on drivers' behavior in high risk situations and the use of warning systems to alert drivers to impending dangers.

Research Agenda For Older Drivers
More than a decade ago, the Agency developed profiles of older driver crashes and recommended educational and licensing practices. NHTSA worked with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators in developing guidelines for the States to use when dealing with driving problems that may be related to aging. Unfortunately, many of these efforts lacked detailed information on the difficulties caused by aging, including the loss of cognitive abilities, and the relationship of these problems to safe driving practices.

In the future, the Agency's efforts will focus on identifying and analyzing research data linking declining physical and mental capabilities of older individuals to their driving safety. Following these activities, NHTSA will recommend appropriate driving practices for persons with various conditions and develop information to assist them in making safe driving choices (including restricting when and where one drives). Additionally, the Agency will develop guidelines for families, medical practitioners, traffic enforcement, and licensing agencies to identify those older individuals who have driving problems. Agency efforts will also develop enhanced driver education and training program elements (e.g., to improve performance at intersections). NHTSA will work to cultivate licensing and enforcement policies that protect the public's safety while maintaining the mobility of older drivers, including improved procedures and practices for problem drivers. NHTSA will continue to work with other Federal, State, and private organizations to stimulate research and a better understanding of the issues affecting the safety and mobility of older drivers.

NHTSA will also assess the use of improved technologies and vehicle crashworthiness characteristics. For example, crash data will be used to improve understanding of the injuries sustained by older occupants because of their increased frailty, including an evaluation of current occupant restraint systems. NHTSA will also investigate the possible role of advanced technologies to prevent crashes typical of older drivers. It is important to determine that technologies arising from Intelligent Vehicle & Highway Systems (IVHS) do not, in fact, overload the decision-making and informational capacities of older drivers.

&nbspForeword  Table of Contents

Anyone who has purchased automobile insurance for a driver under 25 years of age knows that many drivers in this age group are substantially over-represented in motor-vehicle crashes. Just about any way you look at younger drivers, whether on the basis of their numbers in the population, numbers of licensed drivers, or number of miles they drive annually, their crash rates are higher than other age groups. Not only do young drivers have more crashes than other age groups, they receive more than their share of citations for traffic violations. While not all younger drivers are unsafe drivers, many younger drivers pose safety problems that are obvious to most observers.

Many people believe that older drivers are a menace on the road, especially when they find themselves behind an older person driving slower than other traffic. These opinions can only be strengthened by news and feature-program coverage of tragic events in which an older driver was responsible for multiple deaths. But these events, though tragic, are rare. Drivers over 75, like younger drivers, are involved in more crashes per mile driven than drivers in any other age group. After the age of about 60, drivers and passengers are increasingly likely to die as a result of crash injuries because they are more frail than younger persons. This is true even though the number of crashes per licensed driver declines with age. While not all older drivers are safe drivers, safety problems posed by older drivers are less obvious and are often different from what many people believe.

Even though younger and older drivers share the distinction of having more crashes per mile driven than other age groups, the problems posed by these two groups stem from different origins and are manifested in different ways. And, perhaps more important, the magnitudes of the problems presented by each group are vastly different.

These differences hold major implications for NHTSA's research program. While the magnitude of the older-driver problem is relatively small, potential solutions are well defined and simple to achieve. Although younger drivers present the most serious problems, the potential solutions are diverse and difficult to achieve.

As requested by the Committee, this report presents NHTSA's research agenda for addressing the issues related to the safety of younger and older drivers. Chapter 1 provides a summary of the issues related to younger and older drivers. Chapters 2 and 3 report on NHTSA's research program on younger and older drivers, respectively. Each of these chapters summarizes the status of work done to date; outlines the problems that currently remain; and describes the research actions needed to address those problems.

The Agency regards each of the projects or study areas described in the report to be essential for reaching our safety objectives for these age groups. However, the scheduling of the work will depend on available funding.

For the purposes of this report, the terms "young driver" or "younger driver" refer to drivers aged 15 through 24 years of age, while "youngest drivers" refers to those 15 through 19 years of age. "Older drivers" refers to drivers aged 65 years and older, while "oldest drivers" refers to those 75 years of age and older.

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