NHTSA issued a new guideline to help states develop programs to aid older drivers.

NHTSA May Add 'Silver' Rating for Older Motorists

This is being considered as the agency has released a five-year traffic safety strategic plan focused on older drivers.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a five-year strategic plan aiming to increase the safety of older motorists, saying the plan was posted in support of Older Driver Safety Awareness Week (Dec. 2-6). The numbers NHTSA provided explain why a plan is needed: Since 2003, the population of Americans 65 and older has risen by 20 percent and the number of licensed drivers in that age group rose by 21 percent, to 35 million licensed older drivers in 2012. During 2012, 5,560 people over the age of 65 died and 214,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes. "Those figures represent a 3 percent increase in the number of fatalities and a 16 percent increase in the number of injuries from the previous year. The data also show that older adults are at greater risk of dying or sustaining serious injuries, even in low-severity crashes," the agency reported.

NHTSA also has published a new guideline titled Older Driver Safety to help states develop plans to address the particular needs of older drivers and address emerging challenges from their growing populations of older drivers.

"Safety is our highest priority, and that includes ensuring the safety of our older drivers, who represent a growing population on our roads," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. "This plan will help enhance safety for everyone by helping states address the mobility needs of their older drivers."

The plan's elements include these:

  • Vehicle safety: NHTSA is researching advanced vehicle technologies, including vehicle-to-vehicle communications, collision avoidance, and crashworthiness, to reduce the risk of death or injury to older occupants in the event of a crash. The agency is considering upgrades to its New Car Assessment Program, including a new "Silver" rating system for older occupants.
  • Improved data collection: NHTSA is refining its data collection systems and will continue to evaluate crash rates, real-world injuries, as well as physical, cognitive, and perceptual changes associated with driver behaviors. The agency plans to conduct clinical and naturalistic driving studies to better understand the effects of age-related medical conditions, including dementia.
  • Driver behavior: Indicating that it recognizes age alone is not a determining factor for safe driving, NHTSA said it will continue to focus its efforts on public education and identifying functional changes, including vision, strength, flexibility, and cognition, to help at-risk drivers. The guideline issued Dec. 5 is part of this effort.

"Although older drivers are some of the safest drivers on our roads, our plan builds upon the NHTSA's current work to help older people drive as safely and as long as possible," NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said.

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