October 21, 2010 Liz Borkowski, MPH 5Comment

The New York Times’ latest “Room for Debate” discussion is entitled “2025: A Lot of Old People on the Roads,” and it introduces the topic this way:

…the number of drivers 70 and over is expected to triple in the next 20 years in the United States. Older drivers are more likely to be injured, and they often reach the point where they stop driving voluntarily, even before someone takes their licenses away.

How will they get around, given that most of them don’t live in cities or transit-friendly planned communities? What should transportation planners be doing, if anything, to prepare for this demographic reality?

This is yet another reason why public transportation is so important. Many people choose where to live at a time when driving to every destination seems feasible. Even if they can handle the rising oil prices and intensifying congestion that make driving more and more painful, they’ll eventually reach a point where vision and reaction-time declines make it much harder for them to drive. These limitations shouldn’t spell the end to an active, socially engaged life, but for too many elderly people, driving less means spending more time home alone.

Room for Debate contributor Elinor Ginzler of AARP makes the point that public transportation systems need to account for the needs of the elderly, whose travel requirements often differ from those of commuters. And both she and Yale School of Medicine professor Richard A. Marottoli note that improving the design of intersections can benefit the safety of all pedestrians and drivers.

Marottoli suggests some interventions – e.g., computer-based training for reaction time, classroom and on-road training for overall driver ability – to help older drivers stay on the road safely. Such steps can help people live more actively in the environments we have. At the same time, let’s work on making the transportation environment as a whole more hospitable to people who aren’t driving.

5 thoughts on “Aging and Transportation

  1. I think the main issue here is that the vast majority of cities in the USA are designed around the unstated and unquestioned assumption that “everyone has a car, and every one will drive everywhere”.

    The resultant sprawl makes any kind of mass transit very difficult. I do not see any appetite for the massive redesign of the American city which would be required in order for public transport to be effective.

    On the other hand, the current GOOGLE experiments with automatic “self-driving” vehicles may offer a way forward.

    I am lucky, living as I do in Prague. The transport system is extremely good, and owning/using a car to move around the city is financially insane.

  2. We could also stop pretending aging is somehow a good thing, and get on with curing it (www.mprize.org). The funding for the cure for this biggest ailment of them all is pocket change right now. No, pocket lint.

  3. MacTurk, you’re right that sprawl is a huge challenge for public transportation, and I’m sure there are some areas where there would be too little demand to justify adding transit routes. However, over the past several years there have been several areas that have added light rail lines and seen them become hugely popular, and there are other places that have cut back on well-used bus service because of budget issues. So, there are also places that have an unmet need for public transportation.

    There’s also new housing being planned all the time (though the pace of new home construction has slowed), so it’s certainly possible to do new and redevelopment planning in a way that will allow for public transportation.

  4. I agree and I think it’s imperative that we improve our public transportation. Public transportation is a lot more efficient then increasing the amount of vehicles on the road. It’s safer and better for our environment. Even if we could train older drivers to improve their driving ability, it would put more cars on the roads and more danger because of that. In my opinion the best way to travel is the safest, for us and our environment. The easiest way to increase safety for us is to reduce the amount of cars on the road. That’s also the easiest way to increase the environments safety. Both these get accomplished by enhancing our public transportation. I think the best way is to make more stops outside the cities. Whatever we do, we need to focus on ways to reduce the amount of cars on the road, not on ways to put more cars on.

  5. I would like to make the point that there are feasible solutions to this problem. In Chicago public transportation was free for seniors. This solved the problem of senior citizens driving. This promoted public transportation for these elderly people. Now if this was the best solution for Chicago is questionable, but it can be stated that this did provide a good solution to getting elderly drivers off the road. There are solutions out there, the question is if we are willing to put pressure on a younger generation to make life easier for the older generation.

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