WSJ.com - Coaxing Seniors Out From Behind the Wheel
The need for new programs is urgent. With the gap between so-called driving expectancy and life expectancy increasing, large numbers of the country's 78 million baby boomers may try to continue driving even when their skills and senses falter. The annual number of fatal crashes caused by older drivers is expected to more than double by 2030, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va. Drivers who are at least 65 years old are expected to account for 16% of all crashes and 25% of all fatal crashes by 2030. Drivers who are 75 and older have higher crash rates per mile traveled than all groups but 16- to 18-year-olds. And bodily-injury liability claims nearly double for drivers who are 85 and older, meaning that they are more often at fault in crashes than younger drivers, according to the insurance institute.
There is an emotional toll as well. Already, more than half of Americans age 65 or older who can't drive -- almost four million people -- stay home on any given day because they lack transportation, according to the Surface Transportation Policy Project, a Washington nonprofit group. The limbo in which former drivers find themselves can last years, according to 2002 research by the National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Md. Older men who stop driving become dependent on alternative transportation for six years on average; older women need help for 10 years. Former drivers also report higher levels of depression than active drivers, the University of California Traffic Safety Center reported last year.
All this has fueled "a groundswell" in new transportation options, says Helen Kerschner, chief executive of the Beverly Foundation in Pasadena, Calif., which has studied transportation options for older people since 1999.