Aging America and Transportation: Personal Choices and Public Policy

Article excerpt

AGING AMERICA AND TRANSPORTATION : PERSONAL CHOICES AND PUBLIC POLICY

Joseph F. Coughlin and Lisa D'Ambrosio, Editors

National Older Driver Safety Advisory Council

New York: Springer Publishing Company, 2012, 288 pp., $65.00

Aging America and Transportation consists of 14 essays, each richly detailed and argued and enhanced with well-presented statistics. Published by the National Older Driver Safety Advisory Council, it naturally focuses on auto transportation, but has useful essays on transit and paratransit and addresses "new urbanism"-inspired development in a cogent and reasoned manner.

The authors reveal, in the first instance, that the amount of travel undertaken by people 65 years of age and older increased by more than 70% from 1983 to 2001 along with the length of the average trip. Nearly 90% of these were automobile trips: Even for those older than 85 years of age, the figure is more than 85%. Among older adults who do not or can no longer drive, most trips are rides with others in automobiles: In spite of the inconvenience and dependency of this, public transit still has but a small role in the mobility of such older adults.

These figures, the authors point out, reflect the suburbanization of the country over the period: Today and tomorrow's older adults grew up with drivers licenses from their teens; they are accustomed to driving everywhere and expect to live out their years in the same types of suburban environments in which they have lived. They are not expecting to give up their licenses readily, and as the baby boom generation ages (greatly increasing the population of people older than 65 years by 2030), this "new older driver" becomes central to national transportation policy.

The authors go into this subject in considerable detail, with topics ranging from the expansion of automotive safety technology to the enhancement of highway infrastructure to make driving easier and safer for older people. Such applications as obstacle detection, intersection collision detection, parking assistance, and advanced trip planning make use of some of the same technology that is already being built into cars with advanced navigation systems. As intelligent transportation systems (ITS), sensor networks, and other technologies are built out into the highway and road infrastructure, more and more cars will already be equipped to make use of their advanced capabilities.

There is equal emphasis on the topic of road safety, with focus on compensation for the cognitive and reflex abridgements of age. Responses range from the physical (more readable signs, clearer and more visible traffic lights, more visible painted road markings) to educational, finding ways to improve education, and licensing of older drivers through an understanding of their typical characteristics.

All of these represent very practical steps. They don't attempt to change social patterns. They know what to do and how to do it; it's just a matter of organizing it, funding it, and getting to work. …