Millennials and seniors having anything in common may sound unusual.
But when it comes to transportation, seniors age 65 and up may be following their 18-to-35-year-old cohorts’ lead by increasingly diversifying their transportation habits – or not having driver’s licenses all together.
That is in line with what Mobility Lab found with some recent focus groups of Arlington, Va., senior citizens – conducted for Arlington County Commuter Services and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.
It also follows in line with an important study (PDF) – conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and released in January 2016 – which examined data from the Federal Highway Administration pertaining to the changes in the number of adults with a driver’s license from 1983 to 2014.
Among all people of driving age, the proportion with a driver’s license is taking a downward trajectory, especially among those 55 and under. Seniors traditionally hold onto their driver’s licenses, but it appears that even the licensing of the 65-and-older cohort may have peaked about five to six years ago and is now in a very modest decline. The following graphic and bullet points illustrate the specifics:
- Proportion of licensed drivers age 20 to 24 years old 1983 (91.8 percent), 2008 (82 percent), 2011 (79.7 percent), and 2014 (76.7 percent).
- Proportion of licensed drivers ages 25 to 29 years old 1983 (95.6 percent), 2008 (86.3 percent), 2011 (87.5 percent) and 2014 (85.1 percent)
- Proportion of licensed drivers between ages 30 to 34 years old1983 (96.5 percent), 2008 (90.6 percent), 2011 (89.1 percent) 2014 (86.6 percent)
- Proportion of those licensed between age 35 to 39 years old 1983 (94.9 percent), 2008 (91.7 percent), 2011 (90.2 percent) 2014 (87.9 percent)
- Proportion of those licensed between age 40 to 44 years old 1983 (92.2 percent), 2008 (91.9 percent), 2011 (91.6 percent) 2014 (89.1 percent)
- Proportion of licensed drivers between age 45 to 49 years old 1983 (92.5 percent), 2008 (93 percent), 20011(91.9 percent) 2014 (90.5 percent)
- Proportion of licensed drivers between age 50 to 54 years old 1983 (91.4 percent), 2008 (94.2 percent), 2011 (92.2 percent) 2014 (91.2 percent)
- Proportion of licensed drivers between age 55 to 59 years old 1983 (88.2 percent), 2008 (94.9 percent), 2011 (93.2 percent) 2014 (91. 8 percent)
- Proportion of licensed drivers between age 60 to 64 years old 1983 (83.8 percent), 2008 (95.9 percent), 2011 (92.7 percent) 2014 (92.1percent)
- Proportion of licensed drivers between age 65 to 69 years old 1983 (79.2 percent), 2008 (94.0 percent), 2011 (93.0 percent) 2014 (91.4 percent)
- Proportion of licensed drivers between age 70 or older 1983 (55 percent), 2008 (78.4 percent), 2011 (79.2 percent) 2014 (79 percent)
Most striking is the jump from 2008 to 2011 in driver’s licensure among those age 70 and older, which came from a separate 2012 regression analysis (PDF) (estimating the relationships among variables) as part of the University of Michigan’s transportation research.
The analysis showed that older people may value in-person contact more than the virtual contact achieved through the internet that younger people are much more accustomed too. Further, as middle-aged adults who came of age before the internet but become more adaptive to technology use could also potentially driving down car-licensure rates as they become seniors. The profound increase in online shopping will likely also play a crucial role in the necessity of having a driver’s license. This trend in the jump in driver’s licensure among those 70+, it should also be noted, is proving typical outside of the United States.
Michael Sivak, one of the researchers who ran the regression analysis at Michigan, says, “Overall, the future evolution of these changes will have potentially major implications for future transportation and its consequences. Specifically, licensing changes will likely affect the future amount and nature of transportation, transportation mode selected, vehicles purchased, the safety of travel, and the environmental consequences of travel.”
Other factors at play in the “silver tsunami”
The United States is experiencing seismic changes in its demographics and will be struck by a “silver tsunami” of seniors in the next 25 years, with the number of seniors projected to double. Pair that with the growing number of seniors who might not be able to drive in the future, combined with declining numbers of licensed drivers of all ages and Millennials with a preference for multimodal transportation, and we would likely see a trend of greater demand for public transportation now and in the future.
Also at play: the seniors of today will most likely be similar to the seniors of tomorrow, with a strong desire to “age in place” in their homes and communities.
Nancy LeaMond, AARP’s executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer, told CityLab, “We’ve been especially struck by listening to our members. Overwhelmingly, they want to remain in their homes and in their communities for as long as possible. In order to do that, their infrastructure, their homes, and their communities need to be suitable.”
Are seniors even thinking about a time when they won’t be able to drive? The general consensus among the Arlington seniors participating in our focus groups was that the time when they could no longer drive was in the distant future.
Stephanie Firestone, AARP’s senior strategic policy advisor and a former Mobility Lab contributor says, “We’re not preparing ourselves for our mobility limitations. We all think that we’re 20 years younger than we really are.”
While those surveyed in Arlington expressed general optimism, the reality, LeaMond notes, is that “the average length of time that people live after they give up driving is, for men, seven years, and for women it’s 10.”
Full report: Arlington County Senior Citizens Transportation Study (PDF)
Related article: Transit should cater to similar needs of seniors and Millennials
Photo in the Washington, D.C. Metro by Abe Landes for DDOT.