WASHINGTON — Remember "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena"? Baby boomers who first danced to that 1964 pop hit about a granny burning up the road in her hot rod will begin turning 65 in January. Experts say keeping those drivers safe and mobile is a challenge with profound implications.
Miles driven by older drivers are going up and fatal crashes involving seniors coming down, but too often they are forced to choose between safety and being able to get around, experts told a National Transportation Safety Board forum on transportation and aging Tuesday.
Within 15 years more than one in five licensed drivers will be 65 or older, the safety board said. Their number will nearly double, from 30 million today to about 57 million in 2030, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Smarter cars and better designed roads may help keep them stay behind the wheel longer.
But eventually most people will outlive their driving ability — men by an average of six years and women by an average of 10 years. And since fewer Americans relocate when they retire, many of them probably will continue to live in suburban homes.
The result is a "mobility gap," Joseph Coughlin, head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AgeLab, which develops technologies aimed at keeping older people active, said in an interview.
"For many, our homes will not be just a place to age, it will also be house arrest," said Coughlin.
Older drivers who are healthy aren't necessarily any less safe than younger drivers. But many older drivers are likely to have age-related medical conditions that can affect their driving.
A 40-year-old needs 20 times more light to see at night to see than a 20-year-old, Coughlin said. Older drivers generally are less able to judge speed and distances, their reflexes are slower, they may be more easily confused and they're less flexible, which affects their ability to turn so that they can look to the side or behind them.