The U.S. freeway system was born in the 1950s when cars were big and drivers young. At that time, many design standards were built around research on college-age drivers. But now the large block of post-World War II children, about 78 million born between the years 1946 and 1964, is growing older and starting to experience changes in mobility, vision, hearing, and reaction time which are important skills needed for safe driving.
According to the Administration on Aging, by 2060, there will be approximately 98 million people over the age of 65, accounting for roughly one-fifth of the driving population. In effect, for many aspects of engineering and planning, the "design driver" and the "design pedestrian" of the early 21st century will likely be 65 years of age or over.
In an effort to keep older drivers safely on the road, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) enacted a program focused on developing a clear understanding of older driver needs and capabilities by enlisting its engineers, researchers and psychologists to re-examining all aspects of road and highway design, including geometrics, operations, signing and traffic signals. The culmination of this work is provided in the current edition 2014 Handbook for Designing Roadways for the Aging Population. The handbook provides standards and guidelines for improving basic highway safety conditions. The handbook focuses on four main problem areas for the older driver: subtle changes to intersection sight distance, highway exit signage, passing zone length and temporary pavement. It provides several recommendations to help protect the driver, surrounding vehicles, and highway construction workers. To view the handbook on our website, please click
Another important research study was conducted by the Transportation Research Board on the mobility and safety needs of older adults to gain a better understanding of the many dimensions of transportation and aging. The findings were released in Special Report 218, Transportation in An Aging Society: Improving Mobility and Safety for Older Persons, Volume 1. The results of the finding are still being used on the national and state levels to enable them to address the mobility needs, driving and other alternative means of transportation, of our aging society. The findings in the report concluded that “the assumptions about human performance used in signing, roadway marking, traffic control, and highway design are becoming increasingly inappropriate for an aging population of drivers.” Therefore, recommendations were made in the areas including, but not limited to highway signs, road markings, and pedestrian signals. For more detailed information in the report, go the Transportation Research Board website at http://www.trb.org/Main/Home.aspx or click http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/sr/sr218v1.pdf to view a PDF copy of the report.
For more information on this topic, visit our Safe Roads page at https://www.roadsafeseniors.org/resources/safer-roads, dedicated to promoting cost-effective engineering solutions that is used on the national and state level to protect drivers, passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, transit riders, and others by providing resources on emerging technology, innovative best practices and/or proven and required technical specification.
To find out what roadway design improvements are being implemented in your state, contact your state Department of Transportation or visit our Safe Roads at https://www.roadsafeseniors.org/resources/safer-roads, for national and state resource links.
United States Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/
United States Department of Commerce Bureau of the Census. www.census.gov
Transportation Research Board http://www.trb.org/Main/Home.aspx
Jennifer M. Ortman, Victoria A. Velkoff, Howard Hogan. (May 2014). An Aging Nation: The Older Population in the United States. https://www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/p25-1140.pdf