April 12, 2007

U.S. Highway Administration recommends practices for older drivers

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report to the Special Committee on Aging, U.S. Senate, which examines what the federal government has done to promote practices, the extent to which states assess the fitness of older drivers, and what initiatives selected states have implemented to improve the safety of older drivers. The report finds that as people age, their declining physical, visual and cognitive abilities make it more difficult for them to drive safely, and that older drivers are more likely to suffer injuries or die in crashes than drivers in other age groups.

The U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has recommended practices, such as using larger letters on signs that would make roadways easier for older drivers to navigate. FHWA also provides funding that states may use for projects that address older driver safety.

The report says that, to varying degrees, states have adopted FHWA’s recommended practices: for example, 24 states reported including about half or more of the practices in state design guides, while the majority of states reported implementing certain FHWA practices in roadway construction, operations and maintenance activities. States generally do not place high priority on projects that specifically address older drivers, but try to include practices that benefit older drivers in all projects.

More than half of the states have implemented licensing requirements for older drivers that are more stringent than requirements for younger drivers, although they primarily involve more frequent or in-person renewals and mandatory vision screening, but do not generally include assessment of physical and cognitive functions. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is sponsoring research and other initiatives to develop and assist states in implementing more comprehensive driver fitness assessment practices.

The report states that knowledge sharing among states on older driver safety initiatives is limited; GAO is recommending that the Secretary of Transportation direct the FHWA and NHTSA Administrators to implement a mechanism to allow states to share information.

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