TRENTON –Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck and the Division of Highway Traffic Safety kicked off National Older Driver Safety Awareness week today by highlighting safety concerns unique to drivers aged 65 and older and what New Jersey is doing to address them.
A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) analysis of drivers involved in fatal crashes nationwide in 2019 indicates that older drivers in the Garden State are among the safest in the country. NHTSA’s data shows that these were involved in fatal crashes at a rate of 9.51 per 100,000 licensed drivers – the fifth lowest in the nation – and well below the national average of 16.49.
However, senior driving issues are fast becoming a focal point of traffic safety planning in New Jersey as this population increases statewide.
Data from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission shows that while the total population of licensed drivers in the state has increased by nearly seven percent over the last 10 years, the number of drivers aged 65 or older grew at nearly four times that rate. Overall, there are 1.3 million older drivers in New Jersey, and they now account for more than 20 percent of all licensed drivers in the state.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety projects that by 2025, a quarter of all drivers nationwide will be 65 and older.
The challenge facing Jersey and states across the country is how to strike the correct balance between safety and mobility of their aging driving populations.
“Driving helps older adults stay mobile and independent, and it’s vitally important for our office to open a public dialogue on the issues facing this population,” said Acting Attorney General Bruck. “National Older Driver Safety Awareness Week is an opportunity to highlight the work we’re doing to help New Jersey drivers stay as safe as possible on the roads for as long as possible.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older drivers, in general, engage in safer driving behaviors than other age groups, including more often wearing seat belts, driving when conditions are safest, and not drinking and driving.
Nevertheless, as drivers age, factors such as decreased vision, impaired hearing, slower motor reflexes, and worsening health conditions can place them at increased risks. Aging also tends to result in a reduction of strength, coordination, and flexibility, which can affect drivers’ ability to safely control a car.
“Assisting older drivers address age-related challenges is a top priority for us,” said Eric Heitmann, Director of the Division of Highway Traffic Safety. “Today, as we kick of Older Driver Safety Awareness Week in New Jersey, we’re sending a message that New Jersey values its senior drivers and we’re committed to doing all we can to help them stay safe on the road.”
The Divisions most recent actions and initiatives to address older driver safety in New Jersey include:
- providing funding for senior driving safety programs statewide, including the “CarFit” program that offers older adults the opportunity to check how well their personal vehicles “fit” them. The CarFit program also provides information and materials on community-specific resources that could enhance their safety as drivers, and/or increase their mobility in the community;
- hiring a certified CarFit Instructor/senior driving subject matter expert to help coordinate the work being done by the Division and its funded partners statewide to address senior driving safety;
- conducting comprehensive senior-driver training programs to educate law enforcement officers on how to spot at-risk behaviors and best assist senior drivers who may be able to continue driving with minor adjustments; and
- funding a Rutgers University study to identify best practices relating to safety programs for older drivers. The study, slated to get underway in 2022, is the first step toward developing a unified mature driver education program that will serve as the lynchpin of an online Older Driver Traffic Safety Resource Center. The Resource Center will provide New Jersey safety partners with one-stop access to materials, links, and educational programming for a statewide coordinated approach to addressing older driver safety issues.
For more information on Older Driver Safety, visit NHTSA’s website at https://www.nhtsa.gov/road-safety/older-drivers