Since 2003, the population of older adults, defined as age 65 and older, has increased by 20 percent and the number of licensed older drivers increased by 21 percent, to 35 million licensed older drivers in 2012. Those figures represent a 3 percent increase in the number of fatalities and a 16 percent increase in the number of injuries from the previous year.

Those sobering statistics have prompted NHTSA to focus their efforts on vehicle safety, data collection and driver behavior of motorists 65 and older.
NHTSA's latest effort is supposed to serve as "a roadmap to ensure the safety of our nation's growing population of older drivers and passengers."

NHTSA summarizes its focus as follows:

?Vehicle Safety: NHTSA is researching a number of advanced vehicle technologies including vehicle-to-vehicle communications, collision avoidance and crashworthiness, that could help reduce the risk of death or injury to older occupants in the event of a crash. Crash avoidance technologies will benefit all drivers, but may be of special assistance to older drivers, while certain crashworthiness improvements could help address the special vulnerabilities of older occupants. The agency is also considering upgrades to its New Car Assessment Program, including a new "Silver" rating system for older occupants.

?Improved Data Collection: NHTSA is refining its data collection systems and will continue to evaluate crash rates, real-world injuries, as well as physical, cognitive and perceptual changes associated with driver behaviors. In addition, NHTSA plans to conduct clinical and naturalistic driving studies to better understand the effects of age-related medical conditions, including dementia.

?Driver Behavior: Recognizing that age alone is not a determining factor for safe driving, NHTSA continues to focus its efforts on public education and identifying functional changes including vision, strength, flexibility and cognition to help at-risk drivers. This effort includes first-of-its-kind Older Driver Highway Safety Program Guidelines, released today, that states can implement to keep older people safely mobile.

Perhaps the most significant piece of this plan is NHTSA's call for improved driver licensing policies in three areas: model screening protocol for DMV counter personnel during license renewal, more robust medical advisory boards (MABs), and law enforcement training on how and when to make referrals to MABs.

Of course, proper licensing and renewal all depends on where you live. Some states are diligent and proactive on matters like driver safety, and others resist change. Politicians fearing backlash from senior voters will gladly submit, despite knowing that their cowardice places all of us at greater risk.