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New Expert Panel Advises on Safety for Older Drivers

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government

New Expert Panel Advises on Safety for Older Drivers

Volpe National Transportation Systems Center
July 2, 2012

More than 30 million older drivers will be on our roads, and one in four drivers will be age 65 or older by 2030. Today's older drivers face significant lifestyle, environmental, and motor vehicle changes, making the need for robust driver education courses critical. The AARP, in collaboration with MIT AgeLab, created the National Older Driver Safety Expert Panel to advise on curriculum content and serve as a sounding board in the development of a new AARP Driver Safety course.

"The panel, comprised of experts bringing multi-disciplinary research and best practices from around the world, will make a great impact on AARP's Older Driver Safety course," said Mary Stearns, Ph.D., a panel member and chief of the Surface Transportation Human Factors Division at Volpe, The National Transportation Systems Center. "The panel's insights will serve as a valuable resource to identify technological and practical innovations in driver safety."

The panel held its first meeting in Washington, D.C., on May 22, and began synthesizing research results and developing the new curriculum for the AARP Older Driver Safety course. AARP invited Volpe's Dr. Stearns to join the 16-member panel in recognition of her extensive experience in human factors and her deep understanding of human factors issues across multiple transportation modes. She has managed aviation as well as surface programs and carried out technically difficult and complex studies on rail, highway, aviation, and maritime topics. Her contributions focus on the social factors influencing the use, operation, and organization of transportation systems and equipment.

Dr. Stearns' research on transportation issues associated with older individuals is particularly valuable to the panel. She led a Volpe team to identify issues associated with the increasing number of older people for the Office of the Secretary of Transportation. The team convened five expert panels and presented their results and recommendations in several documents including "Improving Transportation for a Maturing Society" and "Safe Mobility in an Aging World (PDF, 78KB)."

In her research, Dr. Stearns found that vehicle operators tend to self-regulate by compensating for age-associated deficits. An older operator may reduce or even eliminate night driving when facing visual limitations. However, the self-regulation mechanism is not perfect, as data suggest some male operators continue to operate beyond their capabilities, while some female operators may withdraw from vehicle operation prematurely.

Dr. Stearns' research found a link between retraining and increased performance, leading to prolonged safe operation of a vehicle. Through retraining, older drivers maintain their skills by continually practicing and are made aware of their deficits and how to mitigate them. For example, it is critical that older drivers keep a vehicle-following gap commensurate with their braking perception and reaction time.

AARP has brought together the National Older Driver Safety Expert Panel from diverse backgrounds to integrate a multidisciplinary perspective into the future of driver education and curriculum. Moving forward, the panel is charged with identifying technological and practical innovations in cars, driving and road safety, and providing insight on best practices in adult safety education.

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