Generation Commute

The AARP Public Policy Institute recently released a comprehensive study of the baby boomers’ travel and commuting patterns over last 40 years. The conclusions: they buy more automobiles, drive their cars more often—and commute longer distances to work than any other generation.

However, 8,000 of the generation’s elders are reaching retirement age every day. How will the changing driving habits of the front-end baby boomers will affect driving and traffic? A few possibilities:

  • More car accidents? Nearly 20% of the drivers on the road will be over the age of 65 within two decades. It’s well-documented that when cognitive or physical abilities start to decline, a driver’s risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident increases. By the age of 80, drivers are five times more likely than a middle-aged driver to be involved in a fatal car crash.
  • Self-driving cars? New in-vehicle safety technology – such as parking assist, back-up cameras, automatic braking systems – could be a huge asset to independent, technology-savvy people looking to maintain their independence behind the wheel. Expect to see tremendous advances in the coming years to meet the needs of older drivers, including the development of an autonomous car.
  • Declining rush hour traffic? Roads and highways, traffic signals, ramp locations and other infrastructure has been strongly influenced by a generation that largely lives in suburban and rural areas, but works in urban centers. As baby boomers begin to retire, ending their daily work commutes, it is possible that traffic patterns are going to change. Since there is a sharp decline in the share of teens and young adults with driver’s licenses, it is not certain that the next generation entering the workforce will make up for this reduction.

These are just a few of many possibilities; it will be interesting to see how public transportation and the motor vehicle industry adapt meet the needs of an aging but mobile generation.