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.