Several recent reports have shown that older drivers are at increased risk of being involved in a traffic accident resulting in a fatality. Seniors 65 and older account for just 8 percent of total miles driven, yet 17 percent of traffic fatalities involved at least one driver over the age of 65.
Robert Siegel of National Public Radio talked with Frank Moretti, director of research at the nonprofit research group TRIP. Mr. Siegel brought up the problem of left turns. Here is Mr. Moretti’s response:
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 the types 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.
But it turns out that seniors are not the only ones at increased risk making left turns. UPS, the package delivery company, noticed that left turns were causing its drivers to spend more time in traffic. So, in 2005, the company began implementation of a $600 million “route optimization system” to provide faster, more efficient delivery. In the process, the company minimized the number of left turns. Quite simply, the time and gas cost of sitting at a light waiting to make a left turn was much higher than making a few more right turns. And as Greg Karbowski, UPS engineer, stated, “Our most dangerous accidents are the ones that occur in intersections where trucks are turning left.”
In 2007, for example, the Federal Highway Administration reported there were 2.4 million crashes at intersections, representing 40 percent of all crashes, and one-fifth of all fatal crashes.
So, what should the conscientious senior driver do? It turns out there are several options. The most severe of which is to stop driving. Although this may seem extreme, Edmunds notes that every year, 600,000 drivers 70 or older do just that. A less severe approach is to limit driving by avoiding crowded thoroughfares, driving only during daylight hours and avoiding rush hour traffic.
AARP offers various courses in driving improvement, both on-line and in classroom settings throughout the country.
And finally, a Yale University study found that certain physical activities and exercise were effective in improving flexibility, coordination and response times in traffic situations.