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Over the next several years, as the Baby Boomer generation nears retirement age, the total number of drivers age 65 and older is expected to surge. By 2025, one in every five drivers will be over 65—so it makes sense to get our roads ready for those who'll keep driving and other have other provisions for those who won't.
And with that surge of older Americans comes a need for some changes in attitude about transportation policy, points out the AARP, as part of a major report, called "How the Travel Patterns of Older Adults Are Changing," released from the AARP Public Policy Institute this week.
Americans of all ages driving less
Per person, since 2001, the average daily distance traveled by seniors dropped by about the same percentage (nearly ten percent) as the population at large. Americans of all ages are traveling less, and the elderly are no exception.
And while 80 percent of those age 65 or older drives a vehicle, more older adults are choosing public transportation—with 55-percent more trips in 2009 than in 2001. The study found that more than nine percent of all trips for this age group are on public transportation.
From 2001 to 2009, the number of trips that drivers took on public transportation doubled, with 40 percent of those in this age group using public transit at least sometimes.
Twelve percent of all trips made by Americans were made by those 65 and older, and the total number of trips made by those in that age bracket (including walking, biking, and mass transit) rose by ten percent, to 45.5 billion trips.
Gas prices have something to do with it
The change in behavior is likely due in part to higher gas prices, says the AARP. The organization had found, in a 2008 survey, that two-thirds of those 50 or older had reported limited driving to accommodate more expensive gasoline.
But the AARP says that gas prices and the economy might not altogether account for these changes.
"To accommodate the mobility needs of an aging population, the focus of transportation planning and policy must shift from increasing road capacity to providing more multimodal solutions," argue the AARP authors, pointing to the need for investment in mass transit, pedestrian, and bicycle options. " More balanced investment in the nation's transportation system will accrue health benefits as people increase their active transportation."
Rural seniors driving more
According to 2009 data, the only group that reported traveling more mileage in 2009 (and driving farther), compared to 2001, was older adults in rural areas.
The report is timed to enforce its support the AARP's support bipartisan legislation—the Safe and Complete Streets Act, and the Older Driver and Pedestrian Safety and Roadway Enforcement Act—aimed at those goals, including expanding bike lanes and sidewalks, improving public transportation accessibility, and increasing the use of reflective surfaces around roadways.