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Regulators considering new rules for older drivers

It is no secret that driver behavior plays a significant role in causing and preventing serious car accidents. Recently, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration announced plans to develop rules designed to improve safety for elderly drivers, their passengers and other people on the road.

According to the NHTSA, older drivers are generally some of the safest on the road. As the population ages, however, an increasing number of older adults are keeping their licenses, which has lead to an increase in the number of crashes and traffic deaths involving the elderly.

The NHTSA defines older drivers as those who are at least 65 years old. The number of older drivers in the U.S. has increased roughly 21 percent since 2003 to 2013 to 35 million. In 2012, 5,560 older drivers were killed and an additional 214,000 were injured in car accidents, according to NHTSA statistics. This marks a 3 percent increase in deaths and a 16 percent increase in injuries from 2011.

The NHSTA hopes to bring down the number of car accidents involving older drivers by addressing several important areas. First, the NHTSA has said that it will update its New Car Assessment Program to include a rating specifically designed to provide information important for older drivers. This includes evaluating new technologies that allow vehicles to communicate with one another in order to avoid accidents.

Second, the NHTSA will increase efforts to study the specific challenges that older drivers face while behind the wheel. Studies will, of course, focus on physical challenges, but will also address cognitive challenges. Indeed, as drivers grow older, a variety of conditions can contribute to their ability to make safe decisions while behind the wheel.

Finally, the NHTSA will begin public programs aimed at educating drivers of all ages about the ways in which aging can affect a person’s ability to drive a car and how these changes should lead to changes in driver behavior. Vision, for example, is a significant concern, but so is strength and flexibility. The NHTSA will get the word out with an annual Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, which just occurred in early December. The agency, too, will soon release its Older Driver Highway Safety Program Guidelines.

Although the NHTSA’s program for older drivers has just begun, it appears that it will play an important role in improving highway safety across the U.S. over the next few years.