- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Aging baby boomers face another problem besides failing eyesight, aching joints and how to work the remote control.

A new survey finds that the largest cohort of drivers in the nation’s history is entering the age where they are in danger of losing their licenses but are living in communities where a car is essential.

The report, released Tuesday by a transportation trade association, says Congress should consider addressing seniors’ growing needs when it works on transportation issues later this year, including more mass-transit spending and retrofitting roads to accommodate older drivers.

The Transportation for America report, called “Aging in Place: Fixing the Mobility Crisis Threatening the Baby Boom Generation,” cites statistics compiled by Peter M. Haas, chief research scientist from the Center for Neighborhood Technology. It grouped metropolitan areas by size and compared larger and smaller areas against each other.

“In the large category, in the 3 million-plus, Atlanta, 90 percent of the seniors in 2015 will live in neighborhoods with poor access options other than driving,” Mr. Haas said. The worst rankings among the biggest metropolitan areas also include Riverside, Calif., Detroit and Dallas.

In many states, seniors are encouraged to retake the driver’s test after age 70 because of the increased risk of traffic accidents. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that although fatality rates of 70-year-old drivers are declining, as drivers reach 75 and older crash rates nearly match those of teenagers.

To address the senior boom, the Senate is reviewing new transportation bills that base license renewal on age and family recommendation of driving eligibility. And such groups as AAA also are taking steps to support the well-being and travel needs of older drivers.

“It’s a problem of national scope which requires a federal response,” said John Robert Smith, co-chairman of Transportation for America. “There’s an opportunity for that response during the drafting of the next transportation bill.”

Another problem is that older adults don’t live near public transportation.

“AARP research has consistently demonstrated that most Americans want to stay in their homes as they grow older,” said Christina Martin Firvida, government affairs director for financial security and consumer affairs for AARP. “Only about 5 percent changed homes as they [reached] 65 or older and fewer than 2 percent changed states.”

The Transportation for America report introduces a cooperation model called the Transportation Reimbursement and Information Program (TRIP) founded in California.

TRIP participants include a rider and a sponsor, who is recruited by the rider and reimbursed by the program. Even though sponsors, such as a friend or neighbor, use their own car, the older adult passenger won’t feel like an imposition.

“[TRIP] empowers riders to ask for rides from people they know without feeling like they are asking for charity,” the report says.

Illinois and Massachusetts also have adopted TRIP.

Other proposed accommodations include raised crosswalks that meet the height of curbs, more benches by sidewalks and a road “diet” that dents oversized streets with proper bike lanes and comfortable foot paths.

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