Unifying Alabama's Traffic Safety Efforts
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Senior Driver Issues
The country's fastest growing age group is performing better on the roads as senior deaths due to traffic accidents has dropped by 40% over the last 30 years. The group, as a whole, does not drink and drive, drive after night, speed, and they obey traffic rules. Also, drivers in their sixties have the same crash rate as drivers in their thirties, and drivers in their mid to late eighties have a crash rate half that of teens and early twenties. They do, however, have the highest accident death rate.
Is Age a Factor in Crashes at Channelized Right-Turn Lanes?
Is Age a Factor in Crashes at Channelized Right-Turn Lanes?
An Exploration of Potential Relationships

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Transportation Research Circular: Taxonomy and Terms for Stakeholders in Senior Mobility
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Traffic Safety Facts 2014 Data: Older Population
NHTSA: In 2014 there were 5,709 people 65 and older killed and an estimated 221,000 injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes. Older people made up 17 percent of all traffic fatalities and 9 percent of all people injured in traffic crashes during the year.

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Break-Even Point for Older Drivers

The graphic above shows how drivers above the age of 74 have more than their share of crashes.  The comparison is between the proportion of crashes caused by drivers of various ages (red bars) compared to the proportion of these drivers that are on the road (blue bars).  This second proportion was obtained from the age proportions of "victim drivers," i.e., those involved in crashes that they did not cause.  The over-representation of the 74 year old drivers is not significant, and so 74 along with 75 was found to have about what would be expected.  Above age 75, drivers are significantly over-represented, and the ages above 85 have over twice the causation as would be expected.  As a comparison of the youngest and oldest drivers that are over-represented, the younger (16-29) age group caused 48,963 crashes per year, (see younger driver analysis), while the 74 and above group caused 5232 crashes per year; thus the younger group caused close to ten times the crashes as the older group (74-98), as can be visualized in the chart.
Worst Days for Senior Drivers

Worst Times of the Year for Senior (Aged 65 and Older)

Driver Involvement in Traffic Crashes


This summarizes the findings of a research study performed by The University of Alabama Center for Advanced Public Safety (CAPS) on the subject of senior driver crash involvement times.  The goal of this study was to determine the worst days, weeks, and months of the year for senior driver crash involvement, where “senior drivers” are defined to be those of age 65 years and older.  This is important information to let senior drivers and in some cases care givers know when they are more apt to be in crashes so that there is additional awareness during these times; it also had the goal to raise awareness of the problems involved in senior driver crashes in general.  The display below summarizes the findings.  The following explains the terminology employed in the display:

  • Blank cell – indicates that for all six-day periods that this day was part of, there were less than four days above the 278 average; in many of these cases all six cells were below average.  The conclusion for these days is that there is no indication that these times would be detrimental in terms of senior drivers’ crashes.

  • Purple cell – indicates that any four of the six days were above average.  This could easily occur by chance, and so this should be regarded as the least possible indication of added danger.  Consideration was given to leaving these out of these displays, but it was decided that they may play a positive role in establishing patterns.

  • Orange cell – indicates that five of the six days in the sequence were above average.  As indicated above, this has a much lower probability of occurring by chance than those given by the purple indicator.

  • Red cell – this indicates that all six of the days in the sequence were above average, a result that has a very low probability of occurring by chance (1 in 32), and thus a much greater indicator of a problem time.  

  • NNN – all readings that were above 350 are entered into the table to provide an idea of the worst days that were found based on the five year total (2010-2014).

Note that all indicators are given in six-day batches, the goal being to specify a general period of time as opposed to an exact date.  Also, notice that one of the six-day periods wraps over the end of one month and the beginning of the next.

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On Becoming An Elderly Driver - From A Retired Safety Engineer's Perspective
As many of you know, before SAFETEA-LU, the number of States with a designated Safety Engineer (who did not just focus on work zones and guard rail) could be counted on one hand. Even my two mentors, Tom Bryar (PN-retired) and Pete Ruesch WI-retired) had "collateral" duties as State Traffic Engineers. The FHWA only had a hand full of full time Safety Engineers like Rudy Umbs. As such, our profession has not really had the benefit our elderly peers providing input back to the profession from an older drivers perspective- a focus area I hope ALL of you give attention to in your State SHSP.

This year over 9,400 baby boomers will turn 65 EVERY DAY! As you heard me say 10 years ago, the older driver must be the States "Design Driver". I would like to believe that, even at age 62, I am among the 85% of all drivers who think they are above average drivers! But I know better from my past experience as a State Safety Engineer in a State (Iowa) which put a lot of focus on older driver issues. My driving experiences in recent years just reinforce what I learned and tried to implement as a State Safety Engineer.

I remember in the late 1990's getting numerous calls from older drivers and others concerning those "irritating" bright high intensity head lights (like xenon head lights) when they were first installed in vehicles. In late 2001 I bought a vehicle with Xenon high intensity lights and immediately noticed how much they improved the visibility of signs and pavement markers, particularly worn sign sheathing and pavement markers. I told older drivers they all should buy a car with those head lights. A few months ago I replaced my 2002 vehicle with a car which did NOT have high intensity head lights. I soon found I was very uncomfortable driving this car at night. In addition to not seeing the worn pavement markers very well, I did not feel I could see far enough down the roadway to drive 65-70 mph at night. Yes, I admit I do some times drive 75- 80 mph, BUT only when I am doing Safety Research - like checking on the level of speed enforcement along a highway! :)

Xenon headlights

Last month I needed to turn left from a drive way onto a well lit multi- lane highway at night. The travel lanes were separated by a narrow and shallow grass median. I turned left and found myself driving across this grass median! While I certainly was focusing my attention on available traffic gaps I should have been able to see that there was a grass median separating the lanes not a paved two-way left turn lane as I assumed and as what appeared to me to be there from an older drivers perspective.

The following day I invested $90 and replaced my head lights with xenon head light bulbs. As expected I feel much more comfortable driving at night. Pavement markers and signs are again more visible as well as other objects (median curbs etc).

I can assure you that my driving experience to date as a young older driver reinforce the recommendations in the FHWA Older Driver Guide. Keep pushing for better sign sheathing, improved pavement markings (and more timely repainting based retro-reflectivity needs), shoulder and center line rumble strips, larger street name lettering and even advance intersection street names, alternative ways to assist older drivers at high speed multi- lane high intersections. Each State should have a law which requires drivers to turn their head lights on when they need to use their windshield wipers.

I further encourage you to include numerous older drivers in your SHSP Safety forums as you develop your updated SHSP's. The AARP Older Driver Education program instructors are excellent folks to invite to participate in your SHSP update.

While some within your Department may disagree with the need to implement many of these older driver safety countermeasures, we all do have one thing in common -- we all hope to live long enough to be an older driver!

As such I extend this Irish blessing to all of you. "May you live to be 105 and may the last voice you hear -- be MINE"


The Curmudgeon of Safety
Tom Welch