Elderly Drivers Take Toll On American Roads

Robert Siegel talks with Frank Moretti, director of research at the nonprofit research group TRIP. Moretti recently completed an extensive research study on older drivers, the problems they face on the road, and innovative solutions to address these problems.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

If you are an elderly driver in Florida, you can knock down the price of your car insurance by taking a course and watching training videos like this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAINING VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: If the first sign of trouble is the brake lights on the car ahead, it may be too late to avoid a crash. In the city, look at least a block ahead and...

SIEGEL: I watched this AARP video a couple of years back while reporting on senior citizens and driving. And now, a new study has put some hard numbers on what we already knew. As baby boomers advance through their 60s, the likely consequences on America's roads are not good. Older drivers are more likely to be involved in accidents. The report was conducted by a nonprofit group called TRIP, in association with the American Association of State Highways and Transportation officials.

Frank Moretti is the research director for TRIP and he joins us from Detroit. Welcome to the program.

FRANK MORETTI: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: And, first, how much more likely is it for a driver who's over 65 to be in a traffic accident than a driver who's under 65?

MORETTI: The most critical number is that 17 percent of traffic fatalities occurred in a traffic crash that involved at least one driver age 65 and over. But only 8 percent of vehicle miles of travelled annually are driven by drivers that are 65 and older. So, you could say from that that older drivers are twice as involved in fatal crashes as you would expect, based on their amount of travel.

SIEGEL: A key problem here appears to be the left-hand turn. I'd like you to tell me what's the problem. Give me a scenario that's fairly common here in which the older driver has more of a problem than the younger driver.

MORETTI: As you come to a left turn, particularly if there's not an actual left turn lane, you're now in a fairly stressful environment. You're trying to keep track of the vehicles coming at you, trying to gauge their speed, you're conscious that there are vehicles behind. So, you're under a fair amount of pressure. And those are type of environments that are going to be the greatest challenge for someone that maybe their reflexes aren't what they once were, that maybe there's some diminishment of cognitive abilities, their vision might not be as quite as good as it once was.

And so, that's considered one of the more stressful and difficult driving challenges. And that's why there's a lot of emphasis on left turn lanes, to try to make those turns as easy as possible. Also, lighting at intersections is considered to be very helpful.

SIEGEL: So, indeed, you think we can make a dent in the number of accidents by designing our roads differently?

MORETTI: Florida is taking a lead in this area, but increasingly other state and local transportation agencies, as they go ahead and make improvements and upgrades on their roads, are following really a set of guidelines. Some of those solutions are clear and brighter signage. It's making sure that lettering for streets are six inches and not four inches, which makes them a lot easier to read. Putting those signage earlier as you approach an intersection would certainly make it much easier to find where you're trying to turn. All of these types of improvements are showing incremental benefits in terms of improving safety.

SIEGEL: Have you been through this with an older parent and trying to separate somebody from the steering wheel?

MORETTI: I'm starting to get signals from my mother in Florida that she has some concerns with my father in his early 80s. So, you know, from a distance. It's out there. And that is the challenge is sort of striking that balance between trying to maintain the quality of life for older people, but also recognizing that at some time they may have to make some lifestyle adjustments, based on their ability to drive a vehicle.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Moretti, thank you very much for talking with us.

MORETTI: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: That's Frank Moretti who's research director for TRIP, the nonprofit which conducted the research into older drivers and accidents.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: