A Report to Congress
January 19, 1993
National Highway Traffic Safety
This Report Was Prepared by the
Office of Program Development and Evaluation
Traffic Safety Programs
| Table of Contents||
| Executive Summary||
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
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.
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
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.
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.
| Go to Chapter 1||