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Directions in Highway Safety, Spring 2007 Cover Page Download Newsletter pdf
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Spring 2007 | Vol. 10 | No. 1

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Failure to Yield Leading Cause of Intersection Crashes Involving Older Drivers

A new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) explores the types of mistakes that cause older drivers to get into intersection crashes with greater frequency than other age groups.

Researches examined police reports and photographs of crashes involving more than 200 drivers in three age groups: 80 and older, 70-79, and a control group of 35-54 yearolds. All crashes involved injuries and occurred on Connecticut roads during 2003-04. Unlike earlier studies on older drivers and intersection crashes, this study also included interviews with the drivers found at fault, enabling researchers to get a clearer picture of the specific mistakes drivers make and why.

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The report concludes that older drivers' failure to yield is a prime cause of intersection crashes. In fact, failure to yield the right of way to other vehicles was the cause of more than half the intersection crashes for the 80 and older group. In comparison, failure to yield caused about onethird of the crashes of the 70-79 yearolds and about one-fourth of those involving 35-54 year-olds. Conversely, rear-end crashes or run-off-the-road crashes occurred less often with the older age groups.

Several factors may explain the greater proportion of intersection crashes involving older drivers. These include a decreased ability to process the multiple sources of information found at complex urban intersections, an increased likelihood of vision impairments, and a decreased range of head movement.

IIHS suggests ways to mitigate the problem of mature drivers' involvement in intersection crashes. Specifically, the addition of protected left turns at intersections controlled by signal lights would eliminate the need to judge how fast oncoming traffic is approaching. Construction of roundabouts are another possible improvement. Roundabouts slow traffic and may be easier for older drivers to navigate than traditional intersections.

Some states are implementing programs to reduce the crash risk of mature drivers. For example, Florida now requires all license renewal applicants 80 and older to pass a vision test. In California, officials are testing a tiered licensing system for all drivers. This involves driving knowledge and physical screening tests that determine whether the applicant needs to also undergo a road test.

Download IIHS's Status Report special issue on older drivers at www.iihs.org/sr/pdfs/sr4203.pdf. For a copy of the study "Crash and error types of older drivers' intersection crashes," by K.A. Braitman et al., write: Publications, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 1005 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington, VA 22201, or e-mail publications@iihs.org.