LSU Civil Engineering Professor Researches Safer Roads for Senior Citizens

Baton Rouge, LA, Nov. 24, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Highways and city streets can be dangerous for any driver but perhaps even more so for senior citizens 65 years and older. As one ages, problems with vision, hearing, and mobility develop, which can all affect one’s driving and walking abilities.

In response, LSU Civil and Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor Hany Hassan is working directly with the U.S. Department of Transportation to find ways to keep senior citizens safe on the roads, whether they are behind the wheel or on foot.

Statistics show that 18 percent of all traffic fatalities in the U.S. involve people over the age of 65. By 2050, it is expected that people 65 and older will represent almost a quarter of the total population in the U.S., possibly creating more traffic safety challenges for them and to other younger road users. Hassan’s main objective for his research project, for which he recently received a grant from the U.S. DOTD, is to identify traffic safety problems for senior citizens (drivers and pedestrians) and recommend effective ways to resolve them.

To better achieve this objective, the project will develop an integrated approach that involves three different methods—crash data analysis, questionnaire survey and driving simulator experiments.

“This group represents a significant portion of the total population in the U.S.,” Hassan said. “They have many challenges with driving and crossing the road safely. According to traffic safety statistics, this 65-and-older group contributes to a significant portion of fatal crashes. That’s why this research is so important—to find out what [the group’s] traffic safety and mobility challenges are.”

Hassan’s first objective is to identify hot spots for traffic accidents involving seniors and if there are any resulting trends.

“For example, we may find that most crashes involving seniors occur at intersections, especially when involving left-turn maneuvers,” he said.

His second objective is to identify challenges of pedestrian crossings for senior citizens.

“We would like to see if they prefer crossing the road at an intersection with a light, at a roundabout, or at a pedestrian bridge,” he said. “We also want to find out what problems they may have with roadway design and traffic control devices such as signs, markings, and signals.”

Hassan said he would also like to talk to seniors about their preferences, needs, and willingness to use autonomous (AV), or self-driving, vehicles in the future, which he added would be an extremely safe mode of transportation for them, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hassan will create a survey to find out what senior drivers’ needs and challenges are. Based on this information, he and his PhD candidate Saba Doulabi will design a driver-simulation experiment using a driving simulation lab located in LSU’s Patrick F. Taylor Hall.

Another objective of this research is to examine the effects of changes in the roadways’ design and traffic control devices on the drivers’ behavior, as well as safety of aging population.

“We are going to design a driver-simulator experiment and ask seniors to drive so we can witness their driving behavior in different traffic and environmental conditions,” Hassan said.

One problem seniors have is driving at night and at intersections. The lights are too bright, and signs are hard to read and may not be reflective enough.

“We want to see how they react to different types of signs to see if they can easily read them,” Hassan said. “We will use regular-font-size and large-font-size signs to see if there’s a difference in their driving abilities.

Hassan will first approach LSU personnel over the age of 65 to participate in the driving simulations, then possibly reach out to retirement communities.

“Our final report will include recommendations on how to improve safety for senior drivers and pedestrians,” he said. “The findings of this research will be beneficial for transportation authorities in the U.S., such as DOTD and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.”

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