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How an Aging Population May Affect Roads and Transportation

In the last century, the population of the United States has aged significantly. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1920, less than one in 20 people were age 65 or older. In 2020, this proportion was one in six. 

Over time, the aging population has grown in comparison to other age demographics. This change could impact roads and transportation in the near future. In fact, according to AAA, older adults are living seven to 10 years longer than they are able to drive safely

An aging population may bring increased issues involving road-related accidents, technological changes, and accessibility. However, there are possible solutions that can keep those on the road safe.  

Increased Risk of Road-Related Accidents 

Research has established that drivers with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) live at a higher risk for at-fault roadway collisions

Beyond the accidents associated with MCI and ADRD, the older population may have an increased risk of road injuries and fatalities due to the conditions associated with age. For example, older adults are at a higher risk of bone fractures and breaks due to a decrease in bone density with age.

Injuries during road-related accidents can be a significant source of stress, but there are steps an individual can take after an accident. For example, many people benefit from contacting a personal injury attorney who can help them navigate through injuries such as whiplash and back injuries. Personal injury attorneys are trained to help individuals communicate the impact of their injuries and understand if the amount specified in their car accident settlement is correct. 

Difficulties With Adapting to Technology 

Technology continues to advance quickly, but for older adults, these constant technological improvements may cause uncertainty. There are new and emerging technologies, such as the internet capabilities of connected cars, that may distract unprepared drivers with sounds or on-screen notifications. 

According to the Pew Research Center, those who are age 65 and older make up a large portion of the U.S. population that is “digitally unprepared” or lacking confidence in their digital skills. There are a variety of potential safety concerns associated with drivers who are digitally unprepared, such as:

  • Car accidents and bicycle collisions that drivers may avoid by using adaptive technologies correctly. 
  • Pedestrian injuries caused by ineffective navigation and distracted driving. 
  • Rideshare incidents involving older drivers who are trying to manage the rideshare app notifications, digital navigation tools, and rider interactions simultaneously.  

These incidents need to be reported to the authorities, and everyone involved should receive prompt medical care. In the aftermath of a collision, it is wise to hire an experienced lawyer who can help you evaluate the financial impact of the incident in question. If the accident involved a rideshare, an attorney can provide the expert knowledge needed to deal with a larger corporate entity. 

Issues With Accessibility and Mobility 

According to the National Institute on Aging, the mobility issues some adults face as they age can impact their ability to drive safely. Conditions such as arthritis can limit a driver’s ability to turn their head to check for oncoming traffic or use the brake or steering wheel quickly to avoid a collision. 

Stiff joints, diminished eyesight and hearing, and limited mobility can all impact a person’s ability to drive and navigate safely. Public transportation is one solution that can help older adults avoid fatal car crashes or commercial vehicle collisions

Accessible public transportation options, such as buses and trams, provide ways for older adults with mobility issues to safely and independently navigate public spaces without exposing themselves to the risks associated with driving. 

Solutions for an Aging Population on the Road 

Access to transportation is a key part of maintaining an independent lifestyle. Without safe modes of transportation, older adults can be isolated from their families, their friends, and the medical professionals who maintain their overall health and wellness. 

While there are associated risks for older adults when traveling, there are solutions that may reduce the risk of accidents and improve the safety of everyone on the road. On the individual and community levels, these steps can provide widespread benefits for aging drivers. 

Education and Awareness 

One solution for improving the safety of older adults on the road is education and awareness. Education and awareness can include:

  • Providing resources for older adults and their families about the medical conditions that can limit their ability to drive safely, such as arthritis, vision and hearing loss, and types of cognitive impairment. 
  • Educating older adults about the alternative transportation options in their area. 
  • Working with local assistive living facilities and advocacy groups to raise awareness about the risks faced by older adults on the road. 

By educating the public about the effect that aging can have on road safety, communities can help to create supportive networks for older adults as they navigate transportation in their later years. 

Adaptive Technology 

There are adaptive technologies that improve safety for all drivers on the road, but they also provide specific solutions to some problems that older adults face. 

One example of these technologies is adaptive cruise control. This tool allows drivers to set their speed, but the car will detect if an object in front of them is too close at the current speed. The presence of close objects will cause the car to slow down or stop automatically to avoid collisions, a feature that is especially helpful for older adults if their reaction times are slowing down. 

Another adaptive technology feature in many modern cars is a lane departure warning system. This alerts the driver, through a noise and lighted alert, when the car has veered into the neighboring lane. Technologies like these can help older adults stay safe on the road and limit accidents. 

More Accessible Public Transportation 

Accessible public transportation allows anyone, no matter their age, mobility, or budget, to travel around their area safely and effectively. However, public transportation is not available in every location. 

According to the American Public Transportation Association, 45% of Americans do not currently have access to public transportation. This means that for nearly half the population, there are limited alternatives to driving. 

By increasing the prevalence of accessible public transportation services, communities can help to improve the independence and movement of older adults. Resources that allow for independent living can promote healthy aging and a better quality of life for the aging population. 

For adults who are age 65 and older, navigating the world independently can be difficult. However, by connecting with community resources to learn new skills, working with reputable attorneys in the aftermath of accidents, and utilizing adaptive technologies on the road, older adults can improve their transportation experiences.