By Laura Parker | University Communications
In the coming decades, as baby boomers age, the population of older adults in the United States will reach unprecedented numbers. By the year 2029, more than one in five Americans will be over the age of 65.
With public health and medical advances, this increasing population of older Americans will remain healthier and will continue driving for longer. Advances in motor vehicle technologies are also helping older drivers stay on the road. Ensuring these older drivers’ safety and mobility as they age will involve understanding their driving patterns, health, and transportation needs. Yet we have very limited empirical data about the dynamic interplay between health and driving safety during the process of aging – a knowledge gap identified by the National Institute on Aging as a key strategic research priority.
To help meet the needs of the baby-boomer generation for safe mobility, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has launched the Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) project. Participating institutions include Columbia University (lead institution), University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, University of Michigan, the Urban Institute, Bassett Research Institute, Johns Hopkins University, and University of California San Diego. Researchers will recruit a total of 3,000 active drivers aged 65-79 years from five study sites in Colorado, California, Maryland, Michigan, and New York, and follow these drivers over time through annual assessments and interviews. To learn about their driving patterns, researchers will fit each driver’s vehicle with a GPS device. Data from this $12 million project will allow researchers to better understand the role of physical and cognitive functions, medical conditions, medications, and vehicle technologies in driving safety, the mechanisms of self-regulation, and the causes and consequences of driving cessation.
“As the US population ages, it is vital that we understand how to balance mobility independence with driving safety among older drivers,” said Dr. Carolyn DiGuiseppi, professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health and LongROAD co-lead investigator at CU Anschutz.
According to Dr. Marian Betz, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the CU School of Medicine, and LongROAD co-lead investigator at CU Anschutz, “This study is an exciting, unprecedented opportunity to understand how medical conditions, medications and the aging process can affect driving and older adult mobility. This information will then help in the development of strategies and programs to allow older drivers to stay safely on the road as long as possible before transitioning smoothly to other forms of transportation.”
As the largest research initiative sponsored by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, LongROAD represents a long-term commitment of the funding agency to supporting the well-being of older drivers. It also represents a broad collaborative effort among researchers from multiple institutions and disciplines. By supporting such in-depth research and collaboration, LongROAD will speed up our journey to improving all Americans’ safety and transportation options throughout the course of their lives.