ODOT Traffic Safety Coordinator works with researchers to come up with practical solutions to keep older drivers and pedestrians safe
STATEWIDE – Older drivers in Oregon have the highest fatal involvement of any other age group tracked by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). When the rate of fatality and serious injury increased several years in a row – for both senior drivers and senior pedestrians (age 65 and older) – it caught the attention of ODOT Traffic Safety Coordinator Tim Burks. He wondered what we could do to improve safety for these Baby Boomers – and their children and grandchildren. Like all safety advocates, Burks wanted some practical solutions.
“I submitted an ODOT research proposal and it was selected for funding,” Burks said. “ODOT Senior Transportation Researcher Mark Joerger did an excellent job coordinating this research project.”
A Thorough Approach
The research – “Addressing Oregon’s Rise in Deaths and Serious Injuries for Senior Drivers and Pedestrians” – was completed this summer with help from researchers at both Portland State and Oregon State universities. It offers several layers of solutions.
“Some of the recommendations we made are relatively simple, and others are more costly and long-term,” Joerger said. Doing more outreach and education with older drivers was one recommendation – something fairly simple; adding pedestrian islands in crosswalks is another – and more complex.
“One thing we can do is tie in some of the recommendations to our projects where we’re already planning to update curbs and curb ramps,” said Joerger. “Both older people and people with disabilities would benefit any time we’re able to do that.”
Researchers reviewed design manuals, guidance documents and published literature with a goal of finding best practices aimed at improving safety for senior drivers and pedestrians. They did in-depth analysis on ODOT crash data to pinpoint contributing factors. And most notably, the project team held a workshop that included safety advocates, engineers, stakeholders and others skilled in working with older adults.
“We’d never tried a workshop before,” said Joerger, “and we were impressed with the amount of participation.”
At the all-day event, attendees broke into groups, prioritized items, used sorting and voting processes and, in the end, provided real value to the project team in shoring up their recommendations.
“They gave us a real world view of what we should be emphasizing and, really, what would be acceptable,” he said.
Many Great Takeaways
The research paper goes into detail on the recommendations but a few findings are easy to understand. For example, we can improve safety for pedestrians by improving visibility. Crash data analysis showed that 20% of the crashes occurred in the dark with no street lights, and an additional 8% and 5% occurred during dawn and dusk, respectively, where the ambient lighting is low. Potential solutions include improved lighting at intersections and near crossing locations, or adding rapid flashing beacons or other active warning devices such as “Pedestrian Crossing” warning signs with flashing LEDs.
For senior drivers, intersections accounted for 40% of fatal and serious injury crashes. Potential solutions include adding more overhead lighted signage, placing more visible and durable pavement markings and prohibiting right turns on red at skewed intersections (a skewed intersection occurs when streets intersect at angles other than 90 degrees).
“Off-set or skewed intersections are a problem for both senior drivers and pedestrians,” Joerger noted. “They are known to be problematic for all drivers and pedestrians, but the study revealed that they are particularly dangerous for seniors. The off-set adds to the crossing distance for pedestrians and creates additional complexity in the visual challenge to drivers.”
Making the System Better
The research team is getting the findings ready for publication in a journal; that will raise the recommendations up to the next level, where they can begin to be included in the everyday work of transportation professionals across the country, including in Oregon. Burks – the one who came up with the idea – is ready for the next step.
“I’m looking forward to seeing several of the recommendations be incorporated into ODOT’s policy and guidance documents,” he said.
Then, it won’t be long before we see this project’s findings in action.
“We have a lot of enthusiastic people in the agency ready to implement results,” Joerger said. “There’s an understanding we need to curtail this trend as quickly as possible.”