Ensuring Safe Mobility for America's Seniors
The Eisenhower Interstate System, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2006, has brought about dramatic changes in the lives of all Americans. Yet in the coming years, the Nation's transportation system is likely to undergo further significant changes in order to accommodate the growing number of older Americans.
By 2030, the number of Americans 65 years or older is projected to double to about 70 million, or one in five Americans. The ranks of our most senior citizens, those 85 years and older, are expected to quadruple in the next 50 years. The aging of the U.S. population has important implications for the Nation's transportation system. Although recent efforts to improve safety and mobility for seniors are certainly beginning to show results, much more must be done to address the consequences of this significant demographic shift.
The Nation can take some measure of satisfaction from the reduced number of highway fatalities in recent years among those younger than age 65. The data over the last decade for older road users do not paint such a rosy picture. And looking ahead is not much better: Without improvement in the current fatality rate, highway deaths for those age 65 and above are projected to double or even triple by 2020 due to the rapid growth in the size of the older population.
Without additional attention to the needs of older citizens, the United States faces critical national impacts not only in terms of transportation safety, but also for the independence and mobility of the senior population. The specialized needs of older road and transit users will place new demands and strains on America's transportation system.
This edition of PUBLIC ROADS introduces the first in a series of articles describing the variety of efforts already underway to improve transportation safety and mobility for older Americans. Over the next several issues, the older driver and pedestrian series will highlight how highway and traffic engineers, safety researchers, professionals in aging services agencies, vehicle manufacturers, medical groups, and many others are helping to ensure that America's senior population continues to enjoy safe transportation and mobility throughout their later years.
Through these creative approaches, we have many opportunities to help make the roadway environment work well for America's seniors. Considering these issues in highway design and operational practices can make it easier and safer for older road users to extend their safe driving years as well as improve safety for road users of all ages.
Responding to this challenge will require the combined actions of local, State, and Federal transportation agencies, but the benefits are well worth the effort. A mobile senior population will allow this growing part of American society to remain active and independent as contributing members of their communities.
When you read these articles, I hope you will find inspiration for the many ways that you too can contribute. There is much that highway and traffic engineers can do to provide the physical links that allow America's seniors to enjoy rich, fully productive lives. Creating a safe roadway environment often requires considerable lead time, and with the rapid aging of the U.S. population, the time to act is now. I hope you will join me in supporting these efforts that are so important to the safety and independence of America's seniors.
Norman Y. Mineta
Secretary of Transportation