As Baby Boomers Begin To Turn 65, U.S. Transportation System Insufficient To Meet Their Growing Mobility And Safety Needs
Eds. TRIP’s report identifies states with highest number and share of older drivers, states with highest fatality and crash rates involving older drivers, strategies to help aging motorists remain mobile, and recommended transportation improvements.
As the Baby Boom Generation begins to turn 65, the number of older Americans and their share of the overall population will swell dramatically. But, according to a new report, although these older Americans will be more mobile and active than any previous generation, they will face a transportation system that is inadequate to offer the mobility and safety demanded by older Americans and the population in general. The report, “Keeping Baby Boomers Mobile: Preserving Mobility and Safety for Older Americans,” was released today by TRIP, a national non-profit transportation research group based in Washington, D.C.
Despite their efforts to modify their own driving, and the fact that overall fatalities have declined in recent years, older motorists are still involved in a disproportionately high share of traffic fatalities. In 2010, there were 5,750 fatalities in crashes involving at least one driver 65 or older. And although drivers 65 and older account for eight percent of all miles driven, they comprise 17 percent of all traffic fatalities. Data for each state can be found in the report’s appendix.
According to the TRIP report, the population of Americans 65 and older will grow by 60 percent by 2025, at which time one in every five drivers will be over the age of 65. Because of good nutrition, improved health care, better education and higher incomes, new generations of older Americans will be more mobile, healthy and active for a longer portion of their lives than those just a few decades ago. For those 65 and older, 90 percent of travel takes place in a private vehicle.
“The growing ranks of older Americans will far outpace previous generations with their level of mobility and activity. Serving their needs will require a transportation system that includes safer roads, safer vehicles, safer drivers and improved choices,” said Will Wilkins, executive director of TRIP. “Congress can help not only older drivers, but all drivers by passing long-term federal surface transportation legislation now.”
The TRIP report offers a set of recommendations to improve the mobility and safety of older Americans. Since many of these recommendations are designed to reduce the consequences of driving errors, they would make roads safer for all Americans. These recommendations include the following:
- SAFER ROADS: clearer, brighter and simpler signage with large lettering; brighter street markings, particularly at intersections; widening or adding left-turn lanes and extending the length of merge or exit lanes; adding rumble strips.
- SAFER DRIVERS: promoting education and training programs for older drivers; evaluating and monitoring “at risk” older motorists through appropriate licensing requirements.
- SAFER VEHICLES: improving vehicles to help withstand and avoid crashes.
- IMPROVED CHOICES: ensuring public transit routes, vehicles, facilities and stops are easily accessible and accommodating to older or disabled passengers; and expanding non-traditional approaches tailored to the needs of older adults.
Keeping Baby Boomers Mobile:
Preserving the Mobility and Safety of Older Americans
With the first wave of the Baby Boom Generation turning 65 in 2011, the number of older Americans and their share of the population will begin to grow significantly in the coming years. And as this generation continues to age and grow, it will demand a level of mobility and an active lifestyle that far outpaces any of America’s previous generations. This aging population will both create and face significant transportation challenges, including a transportation system that lacks many features that would accommodate the level of mobility and safety older Americans desire and expect. Transportation innovations to accommodate the Baby Boom Generation’s need for improved safety and mobility will benefit users of all ages.
For older Americans, as well as the population in general, the ability to travel represents freedom, activity and choice. Older Americans prize their mobility and active lifestyles and want to maintain them as long as possible. For many older people, driving remains the safest, easiest and most convenient means of transportation.
Although overall traffic fatality rates have fallen to record lows in recent years, older drivers still make up a disproportionately high share of those involved in fatal traffic crashes. Roadway safety improvements designed to make it easier for older drivers to navigate traffic are becoming increasingly important, as the largest generation in American history grapples with the effects of aging while trying to maintain a level of mobility that matches its active lifestyle.
This report explores mobility and safety issues for older Americans and presents a set of recommendations for implementing a transportation system that can better serve the safety and mobility needs of older Americans and the population at large.
OLDER DRIVER DEMOGRAPHICS
As the Baby Boom Generation ages, older Americans form a greater portion of the overall population and a greater share of all licensed drivers.
- Americans aged 65 and older account for 13 percent of the total population. This group increased by two percent each year between 2001 and 2009.
- The number of older Americans will only increase, as Baby Boomers began to turn 65 in 2011. Over the next 15 years, the population of Americans 65 and older is projected to grow by 60 percent.
- Thirty-four million licensed drivers in the U.S. are 65 or older. Currently, 16 percent of the licensed drivers in the U.S. are 65 or older, up from 14 percent in 2000. Projections show that one in every five drivers will be 65 or older by 2025.
- Older men drive more than women of the same age, although the gap is narrowing. While 89 percent of men 65 and older continue to drive, only 73 percent of women in the same age group drive. Because they outnumber men, there are more 65 and older female drivers than men.
- Older Americans tend to “age in place”, remaining in the homes where they raised their children and held jobs. Seventy-nine percent of elderly Americans live in suburban (56 percent) or rural (23 percent) communities.
- The states with the highest percentage of drivers 65 and older are Connecticut, West Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma, Maine and New York.
- The ten states with the greatest total number of licensed drivers age 65 and older are California, Florida, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina and New Jersey.
OLDER DRIVER MOBILITY AND QUALITY OF LIFE
Older Americans are more mobile and active than ever and want to maintain that lifestyle for as long as possible. Private vehicles remain the overwhelming transportation mode of choice for older Americans.
- Because of good nutrition, improved health care, better education and higher incomes, new generations of older Americans will be more mobile, healthy and active for a longer portion of their lives than those just a few decades ago.
- Older drivers make a greater proportion of shopping trips, more family and personal errands, and more trips for social and recreational activities than younger adults.
- Travel by older drivers (those 65 and up) now accounts for eight percent of all miles traveled in the U.S.
- For those 65 and over, 90 percent of travel takes place in a private vehicle. And, for Americans 85 and older, 80 percent of travel occurs in a private vehicle.
- Travel by private vehicle is the dominant mode of transportation among older Americans, often because it is safe and convenient and they may be physically unable to use other modes such as transit, walking or cycling.
- Many older people self-regulate their driving as they age, traveling only on familiar routes during daylight hours, avoiding left turns and sticking to less complex roads with lower traffic volumes during non-peak travel times.
- Older drivers are disproportionately affected by mounting levels of congestion. Because they tend to limit their driving to non-peak hours (typically 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.), their window of opportunity for travel narrows considerably as morning and evening rush hours become longer and midday congestion continues to grow.
TRANSIT AND DRIVING ALTERNATIVES FOR OLDER AMERICANS
While the overwhelming majority of trips by older people take place in private vehicles, public transit options can be improved to allow for wider usage by older Americans.
- Although transit use by older Americans has increased in recent years, according to the National Household Travel Survey, public transit accounts for just 1.3 percent of trips by older Americans.
- Only 14 percent of older Americans living in rural areas report having transit service available within a half-mile of their homes.
- For some older people, the same health conditions and functional impairments that cause them to stop or curtail driving will also limit their ability to use other forms of transportation including walking, cycling and public transportation.
- Transit systems can be improved to better accommodate older Americans as well as the population at large. These improvements include expanded bus routes; transit vehicles, stops or facilities that better accommodate older or physically challenged passengers; and additional non-traditional and private sector approaches to transit, including formal and informal ridesharing and taxi services.
ASSESSMENTS AND GUIDELINES FOR OLDER DRIVERS
Although many older motorists tend to self-regulate and monitor their own driving and abilities, many states require more stringent testing and license renewal policies for older drivers. A variety of organizations offer classes and independent evaluations for older drivers to sharpen their skills and determine the range of their driving abilities.
- Older motorists can sharpen their skills behind the wheel and monitor their driving abilities as they age through a variety of classes and independent evaluations. AAA and AARP are just two organizations that offer courses in driver safety and self-assessments geared toward helping older motorists determine the range of their driving abilities.
- Research shows that people whose driving has been limited by age-related issues experience a significant decline in quality of life and their restricted mobility adversely impacts the individual, their family, the community and the society in which they live.
- Several organizations promote the need for older drivers to update their skills and offer evaluations and refresher courses for older drivers who want to determine whether they should limit or stop driving. The following sites offer assessment and safety tips for older drivers and their loved ones: Ten Signs it’s Time to Limit Your Driving (AARP), Senior Driving Safety Tips and the Silver Century Road Skills Report.
- Before they ultimately give up driving, many older motorists gradually ramp down their personal travel. So, while they still may be licensed, the oldest drivers tend to make much less frequent trips in their vehicles.
- Many states require more stringent and frequent testing and license renewal policies for older drivers. These can include shortened periods between renewals, in-person renewal after a certain age and vision and road tests that are not routinely required of younger drivers. Additional licensing requirements for older drivers exist in 28 states and the District of Columbia.
- Some research suggests that age-based mandatory assessment programs may not effectively identify and manage the small portion of older motorists whose driving should be limited or stopped. And they may prematurely curtail the mobility of drivers who were already self-regulating and managing their driving.
ROADWAY HAZARDS FOR OLDER DRIVERS
Certain situations and driving environments can be especially challenging or hazardous for older motorists.
- The effects of injuries sustained in traffic crashes tend to be more severe in older drivers because of physical frailty and existing medical issues.
- As people age, their eyesight, reaction time, cognitive ability and muscle dexterity may deteriorate, often making the tasks associated with driving more difficult.
- According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2010, 37 percent of all fatal crashes where at least one driver was aged 65 or older occurred at an intersection or were related to an intersection. For fatal crashes where no driver was aged 65 or older, 20 percent were at an intersection or intersection related.
- Left hand turns are more problematic for older drivers, as they must make speed, distance and gap judgments simultaneously to enter or cross the through roadway
- According to a 2002 study by University of Kentucky researchers, each advancing year of age after 65 increases by eight percent the odds of getting into a crash that involves turning left.
- Deteriorated vision among older drivers may make small or complex road signage difficult to process. Signs may be misunderstood or not seen quickly enough to caution older drivers about upcoming exits, obstacles or changes in traffic patterns.
FATALITY AND CRASH RATES AMONG OLDER DRIVERS
In 2010, there were 5,750 fatalities in crashes involving at least one driver age 65 or over. Although overall fatality rates have decreased in recent years, the number of older drivers killed or involved in fatal crashes remains disproportionately high.
- Although drivers 65 and older account for eight percent of all miles driven in the nation, 17 percent of all traffic fatalities occurred in crashes where at least one driver was age 65 or older.
- Florida leads the nation in the number of traffic fatalities involving a driver age 65 or older in 2010. The other states in the top ten for fatalities and fatal crashes involving a driver 65 or older are Texas, California, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, New York, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee. Information for all 50 states can be found in the Appendix.
- Florida also leads the nation in the number of drivers age 65 or older killed in a traffic crash (2010). Other states in the top ten for the number of drivers 65 or older killed in traffic crashes are Texas, California, North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, New York and Michigan. Information for all 50 states can be found in the Appendix.
- Vermont leads the nation in the share of traffic fatalities in crashes involving a driver 65 or older. The next nine states with the highest share of overall traffic fatalities occurring in crashes involving a driver 65 or older are Nevada, Kansas, Maine, West Virginia, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Montana, Oregon and Nebraska. Information for all 50 states can be found in the Appendix.
EFFORTS TO ACCOMMODATE OLDER AMERICANS
State transportation departments are becoming increasingly active in addressing the need to maintain the mobility of older Americans through a combination of improvements to driving and pedestrian facilities, enhanced public education, and an emphasis on partnering with other organizations on a broader approach to maintaining and improving the mobility of older people.
- Several states, including Florida, Tennessee and Pennsylvania, have formed task forces that include numerous state organizations with an interest in the quality of life of older people. These coalitions work together to create and provide oversight to programs aimed at bringing a holistic approach to maintaining mobility and safety for older people.
- Since the early 1990s, the Florida Department of Transportation has emphasized the need to enhance its surface transportation system to better accommodate older people. These improvements have included the widening of roadway striping from four to six inches, the use of advanced street name and guide signs with larger lettering, larger stop and yield signs, and the use of countdown pedestrian signs.
- States are implementing the recommendations of Federal Highway Administration’s “Highway Design Handbook for Older Drivers and Pedestrians,” which includes a number of recommendations to improve the mobility and safety of older drivers and pedestrians.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR IMPROVING MOBILITY AND SAFETY FOR OLDER AMERICANS
The following set of recommendations can improve the mobility and safety of older Americans. These improvements will also improve mobility and safety for all motorists.
- Clearer, brighter and simpler signage with larger lettering, including overhead indicators for turning lanes and overhead street signs. This should include minimum levels of retroreflectivity.
- Brighter street lighting, particularly at intersections, and bright, retroreflective pavement markings. Studies also show that increasing the width of pavement markings from 4 inches to 6 inches helps with decreasing lane departure and crashes, especially with older drivers.
- Where appropriate, widening or adding left-turn lanes and increasing the length of merge or exit lanes.
- Where appropriate, widening lanes and shoulders to reduce the consequence of driving mistakes.
- Adding rumble strips to warn motorists when they are leaving the roadway.
- Making roadway curves more gradual and easier to navigate.
- Where appropriate, design and operate roads to accommodate all users of the roadway.
- Adding countdown pedestrian signals.
- Adding refuge islands for pedestrians at intersections.
- States should also utilize the Federal Highway Administration’s “Highway Design Handbook for Older Drivers and Pedestrians” for examples of cost-effective safety infrastructure upgrades.
SAFER ROAD USERS
- Promotion of education and training programs for older drivers.
- Evaluation and monitoring of “at-risk” older motorists through appropriate licensing requirements.
- Improving crashworthiness of vehicles to better protect occupants and withstand impacts.
- Raising awareness among older drivers of appropriate safety precautions and seat belt use.
- Development of Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) technologies, including crash avoidance technologies.
IMPROVED TRANSPORTATION OPTIONS
- Ensuring public transit vehicles, facilities and stops are easily accessible and accommodating to elderly or disabled passengers.
- Expanding bus and transit routes.
- Implementing non-traditional and public sector approaches that are tailored to the needs of older adults, including ride sharing, volunteer driving programs, door-to-door community transportation services, taxi services and vehicle donation.
All data used in this report is the most current available. Sources of information for this report include: The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the National Household Travel Survey, The Brookings Institution, Monash University, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, AARP Public Policy Institute; the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the U.S. Census Bureau.