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Highlights

As people age, their physical, visual, and cognitive abilities may decline, making it more difficult for them to drive safely. Older drivers are also more likely to suffer injuries or die in crashes than drivers in other age groups. These safety issues will increase in significance because older adults represent the fastest-growing U.S. population segment. GAO examined (1) what the federal government has done to promote practices to make roads safer for older drivers and the extent to which states have implemented those practices, (2) the extent to which states assess the fitness of older drivers and what support the federal government has provided, and (3) what initiatives selected states have implemented to improve the safety of older drivers. To conduct this study, GAO surveyed 51 state departments of transportation (DOT), visited six states, and interviewed federal transportation officials.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Transportation 1. To help states prepare for the substantial increase in the number of older drivers in the coming years, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FHWA and NHTSA Administrators to implement a mechanism that would allow states to share information on leading practices for enhancing the safety of older drivers. This mechanism could also include information on other initiatives and guidance, such as FHWA's research on the effectiveness of road design practices and NHTSA's research on the effectiveness of driver fitness assessment practices.
Closed - Implemented
With the American population aging, older driver safety may become a prominent issue for states in the future. While there are steps that states can take to prepare for the anticipated increase in older driver population and simultaneously improve safety for all drivers, state resources are limited, so information on other states? initiatives and federal efforts could assist states in implementing improvements for older driver safety. We recommended that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), both part of the Department of Transportation, implement a mechanism for states to share information on leading practices for enhancing the safety of older drivers. As of July 2009, both FHWA and NHTSA had updated their websites to include older driver safety references and links to other organizations? information. For example, both websites now have references to articles on older road users, technical reference materials, and research results as well as links to each other?s websites and the National Center on Senior Transportation (NCST) website, which has a clearinghouse for sharing technical information about older road user programs. The FHWA website also has links to state DOT safety offices. In addition, according to NHTSA officials, NHTSA and NCST have brought together officials from six states to learn new techniques, share ideas, and establish plans to meet the needs of older drivers since 2008. NHTSA also dedicates time to discussing older driver safety during region-wide meetings with state highway safety offices and provides training on older drivers to state law enforcement officers. The efforts from both FHWA and NHTSA provide states with information on other states? initiatives and federal efforts, which allows them to quickly obtain information they can use to develop and implement programs to enhance the safety of older drivers in their states.

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