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Elderly Driving: AARP Study Looks At What Happens When Boomers Hang Up Their Car Keys?

A new report from the AARP Public Policy Institute found, somewhat predictably, the number of cars Americans own and number of miles we travel has increased over the past four decades. But deep in the report was this little nugget: At current growth rates, by 2030 there will be 15 million non-drivers over the age of 65.

What will happen to all those seniors stuck in the suburbs who can't drive themselves to the places they need to go? Are we entering a "Driving Miss Daisy" era? And how prepared are we for it?

“People who live past age 70 will outlive their driving years by seven to 10 years on average,” said Debra Whitman, AARP Executive Vice President for Policy. “The challenge will come when the generation that is turning the suburbs gray hangs up the keys.”

Think about it: How will older people who live in areas without public transportation get around, go grocery shopping, get to doctors' appointments, visit friends, engage in full lives? “We need to have options for those who no longer drive and should be addressing this growing need with changes to our transportation policy,” Whitman said.

Experts say that any business that provides an aspect of help for people to stay in their homes is likely to thrive and prosper. And transportation services for the elderly is likely to be key among them. Already there are services that will pick up and drive seniors to medical appointments, and many retirement communities offer shuttles to local malls and movies. The Eldercare Locator, a public service of the Administration on Aging, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is a nationwide service that connects older Americans and their caregivers with information on senior services.

A N.J. Foundation for Aging report recommended that funding be directed toward providing door-to-door escorted transportation to medical appointments for the elderly and singled out the American Red Cross as being a leader in this area. "Because it provides door-to-door and escort services and crosses county lines, the American Red Cross comes closest to being a best practice model in New Jersey compared to other medical transportation providers," the report found.

The AARP report, the “Impact of Baby Boomers on U.S. Travel, 1969 to 2009,” analyzed national surveys of Americans' travel patterns, conducted by the Federal Highway Administration since 1977. (The latest, completed in 2009, surveyed more than 300,000 people in 150,000 households.)

The massive size of the boomer demographic, their housing preferences and the migration of women into the workforce have changed the way America travels. When the baby boomers started building families, they acquired his-and-hers cars and moved from the urban city core to the suburbs, where many of them remain. In addition, in the 1980s, highway planners failed to anticipate the impact of women moving into the workforce, the report noted, and congestion grew.

Over the past four decades, the number of household vehicles nearly tripled; travel rates more than doubled; and total vehicle miles of travel grew at more than twice the rate of population growth. In another interesting finding, while the distance traveled for medical services has remained about the same for the past three decades, the number of medical trips has skyrocketed for all Americans, not just boomers.

Lastly, those weekend trips to Home Depot and the like have skyrocketed: "Roughly two-thirds of this increase in travel by boomers since 1977 was attributed to travel for non-work related household maintenance trips which grew fivefold—adding the equivalent of nearly one trip per day per person more than in 1977," the report stated.

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