In Los Angeles, 87-year-old Russell Weller was arraigned last
month for the tragic deaths of 10 people in July, when his car sped
out of control through a crowdedfarmers' market. In Phoenix, 68-
year-old Bishop Thomas O'Brien was convicted Tuesday of killing a
jaywalker whom his defense attorney said he didn't see, even after
part of his windshield was smashed. And one of the most extensive
studies of senior drivers to date, released Wednesday, concludes
that older drivers pose significant dangers to themselves and
others, due to everything from slower perception to the effects of
Together, they're signs of a road-safety challenge that is rising
as the baby-boom generation begins to reach retirement age and as
Americans live longer in general. Renewed attention to the risks of
that graying driving population is likely to spur changes, from more
license testing and education in new technologies to the redesigning
of roads, signs, and lighting.
"The group over 65 is the largest-growing cohort in America, and
we have to come to grips with what that means for transportation,"
says Peter Kissinger, president of the American Automobile
Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety, which sponsored the
The survey of 4 million injury crashes over 25 years in Texas is
one of the largest yet, and it reveals challenges from slower
response time in braking to diminished visual range to physical
frailty. The probability of death or injury in crashes increases
with the driver's age, as does the likelihood of a left-turn crash
or lapses in perception that could contribute to a crash, according
to the study.
Those discoveries aren't new, but they lay groundwork that could
lead to better public and family policies - or even change the way
cars are manufactured.
"This is an important study in pointing up how many things have
changed for older drivers in the past two decades, but still there
is a yawning gap in what needs to be don," says Maureen Mohyde,
director of the corporate gerontology group for The Hartford
Financial Services, which offers car insurance to members of AARP.
The report showed that the average person requires ten times the
amount of light to see an object at age 60 as at age 16. It also
found that seniors are more likely to be involved in left-turn
crashes: An 85-year-old, for example, is 50 percent more likely to
be involved in such a crash than someone between 55 and 64.
Such conclusions point to possible policy changes, such as
enhanced lighting for freeways, wider turn lanes, and longer left-
turn traffic signals. And those are increasingly urgent, analysts
say: If trends continue, both the number of drivers over 65 and the
number of highway deaths - now 5,500 annually - will double by 2030,
according to Kissinger. …