, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 375-408

Sustainability and automobility among the elderly: An international assessment

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Abstract

In the next three decades there will a huge increase in both the absolute number of older people and in their percentage of the populationin almost all Western European countries, North America, and Australia. Most older people will have active lifestyles in which mobility and access play a major role and almost all older men and a majority of older women will be car drivers, used to the convenience and flexibility which the car provides.

Using data from the US, Australia, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom, the paper shows that, in spite of cultural and policy differences, older people around the world are more likely to have a license, to take more trips, and to do so more often as the driver of a car than older people just a decade ago; they are also less likely to use public transit. These trends have a number of sustainability implications – the most obvious one is increased environmental pollution. For example, even though older people may travel less than younger drivers they may be polluting proportionately more because a) they are less likely to make as great a proportion of trips in public transit as younger people and b) the trips they do make may create more pollutants. In addition, older drivers may incur more wasted miles due to wayfinding errors and trip-scouting behavior. And when older people curtail their driving, younger family members may have to increase (or lengthen) their trip-making to provide needed services or additional transportation.

While this paper stresses the environmental problems posed by an aging population, effective strategies arise from a focus on a broader definition of sustainability. The most important approach is to accept the inevitable and work to make the private car "greener" and safer. New transit service concepts and strategic community and neighborhood design and service elements can complement the development of cleaner cars.

Although many of the potential strategies are not new, or can be expensive to implement, the convergence of environmental concerns with other problems arising from the automobility of the elderly – including increasing crash rates and serious loss of mobility among those unable to drive – may make these policies more politically viable than in the past.