Nearly Half Of All U.S. Drivers Are Over 50: Is That Good News Or Bad?

March 24, 2015

If you like statistics and factoids, you're going to love the ones that the U.S. Department of Transportation has uncovered regarding American drivers. They're being used as part of something called Beyond Traffic (PDF) -- a strategic plan that makes projections about transportation in the year 2045 and discusses ways to nip anticipated problems in the bud.

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The DOT's statistics are based on data from 2013 (the most recent year for which complete figures are available), and include these tidbits:

  • The U.S. had a whopping 212.2 million licensed drivers in 2013.
  • Nearly half of that number -- 93.5 million, to be precise -- were over 50 years old.
  • The number of older drivers is rapidly increasing due to the surge of aging Baby Boomers, the last of whom earned their AARP cards in 2014.
  • In fact, the number of drivers over 50 grew a staggering 22 percent in the decade between 2003 and 2013.
  • But that's not all: the fastest-growing demographic of drivers is those over 85. Their numbers nearly doubled from 1.76 million in 1998 to 3.48 million in 2013.
  • By the time we reach 2045, the number of drivers older than 65 is likely to have grown 77 percent.

But what about younger drivers? Where do they fit in?

As we've reported time and again, a significant number of younger Americans simply aren't interested in getting behind the wheel. Many will change their minds, of course, once they get a bit older, begin earning reasonable salaries, and start families. However, increasing urbanization, the growth of car-sharing, and a host of other factors could put a long-term dent in the number of Millennials (and their children) who want to drive.

What does that mean in practical terms? According to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, it means that we need to start preparing now for the needs (and safety) of mature motorists: 

"Knowing that older drivers are one of our fastest-growing populations helps us realize the importance of transportation investment – especially for research. In the decades ahead, our roads will serve even more older drivers – making it critical that we invest in our nation's infrastructure and use state-of-the-art research to ensure the road system is ready to meet their needs."

Proposed improvements include basic things like better, brighter roadway markings, as well as high-tech tools that will allow cars to drive themselves, taking the onus off aging drivers.

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Of course, it's no coincidence that this report -- and the accompanying plea for funding of transportation projects -- comes at the exact moment that the U.S. Congress is engaged in serious budget debates, which naturally include the funding of agencies like the DOT. Foxx and his friends know that they need all the statistics they can muster to keep their budget high.

Then again, the DOT's ask isn't unreasonable. Infrastructure in the U.S. has been underfunded for years, and our roads, bridges, and tunnels are crumbling. Foxx isn't the only one in D.C. who understands that infrastructure isn't just about safety, it's about economic stability, too.

If you have time, we encourage you to read through Beyond Traffic (PDF) yourself. Afterward, you can leave comments on the strategic plan here.


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