Older Americans are driving more miles than ever and the rate of fatal crashes involving seniors is declining, experts recently told the National Transportation Safety Board.
While it’s encouraging to see the trend of fewer deaths, probably related to better health among those labeled seniors as well as to improved vehicle safety, there are few answers to how to keep seniors mobile once they can no longer safely drive themselves.
That could result in a “mobility gap,” according to Joseph Coughlin, head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab, which develops technology aimed at keeping older people active.
“For many,” he said, “our homes will not be just a place to age, it will also be house arrest.”
For the many seniors on the Treasure Coast, that’s a discouraging possibility to be addressed sooner rather than later.
Within 15 years, more than 1 in 5 licensed drivers will be 65 or older and those numbers will almost double from about 30 million today to about 57 million in 2030, according to a recent Associated Press story.
Technology can help keep older drivers stay behind the wheel longer. Seniors will benefit from crash warning systems, parallel parking devices and night vision systems, for example.
Still, there will come a time when they have to turn over their keys. According to The Associated Press, men generally outlive their driving ability by an average of six years and women by an average of 10 years.
That loss of independence can be an awful experience for many seniors. They must depend on friends or family members to drive them around or pay high prices for taxis or other transportation.
Mass transit could be a solution for some, but only for those healthy enough to use such systems and who live in cities where they are available. In many cases, physical conditions that prevent them from driving — such as loss of eyesight or frailty — also would prevent them reasonably use mass transit.
Mass transit is not be viable for most seniors who retire and continue to live in suburban homes. How will they to get around?
Another and potentially tragic alternative for seniors is continuing to drive when they should not, putting themselves and others at risk.
And, their rates of fatal crashes already is higher compared with other groups, starting about age 75. Drivers older than 85 have a higher fatality rate than teenagers and drivers in their early 20s. That’s largely because they are less likely to survive an accident or recover from injuries.
Aging baby boomers are facing a dilemma when it comes to keeping independent and mobile in their late years. But it’s also a dilemma for society.
Some solutions may be found in technology and rethinking transportation policies. Considering how technology has so drastically changed life just in recent years, it would not be surprising for it to have a major role in closing the “mobility gap.”
Time is short for coming up with solutions. Baby boomers are numerous and they aren’t getting any younger.
— From the Daily News’ fellow Scripps newspapers in Stuart, Vero Beach and Fort Pierce, Florida.