Aging drivers present new transportation challenge

Associated Press Modified: November 9, 2012 at 3:17 am •  Published: November 9, 2012

Most boomers live in the suburbs and are expected to remain in the homes where they raised their children even after they become empty nesters. The housing bust has also trapped many older boomers in large homes whose values have fallen, sometimes below the balance of their mortgages.

A shift in the housing market with long-term implications may already be occurring as leading-edge boomers appear less interested in age-restricted communities than their parents, according to a recent report by the Urban Land Institute, a land-use think tank.

"They are not looking to retire early and are not seeking to isolate themselves among the elderly," the report said.

Baby boomer Diane Spitaliere, a 58-year-old who recently retired after working 38 years at the Federal Aviation Administration, said the idea of moving to a retirement or assisted living community "is just very unappealing to me."

If there comes a point when she is no long able to live alone in her single-family home in Alexandria, Va., she'll probably move close to family members in New York, she said.

Stuart Peskoe, an engineering manager, said he and his wife also want to continue living in their single-family home in the Boston suburbs after they retire, even though their children are grown and live in other states. They don't want to leave their friends and they want to keep the extra rooms for when the kids visit.

But he's not sure how they would get around once they lose their driving skills. There's no nearby public transportation.

The Internet and delivery services may help the couple cut back their driving trips, said Peskoe, 58. "UPS and FedEx have this pretty good deal going with Amazon and Netflix," and the local grocery store delivers online orders, he said. "More and more we don't have to leave the house if we don't want to."

Automakers are banking on boomers being able to stretch out their driving years with the aid of safety technologies— like adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning systems and blind-spot monitoring — that are becoming more common in cars. The transportation needs of millions of boomers aging in the suburbs may build greater public acceptance of automated cars that drive themselves. Some states already permit road testing of these vehicles.

"Baby boomers have always been an active generation who want to go places, so we don't see them sitting in porch rockers upon retirement," said Gloria Berquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. "They will want the freedom and mobility of a vehicle."

Demographers have noted an uptick in retirees moving to central cities where they're less dependent on being able to drive. Because there are so many boomers, if a significant number move to central cities, it could drive up housing costs and force cities to make greater accommodations for the elderly, such as more benches at bus stops or a slowing of the timing of pedestrian crossing lights.

But the history of boomers has been that they often do the unexpected.

Charles and Pamela Leonard, both 65, recently gave up their careers and traded their home in downtown Atlanta, where they could walk to restaurants, grocery stores and public transportation, for a small farm near Lexington, N.C., where they grow organic medicinal herbs.

Pamela Leonard said the couple isn't sure what they will do when they are no longer able to drive except, "I will not drive until my children have to take the car away. That was an issue with my mother, and I hope I've learned from that."

"It's very hard to know how you will deal with old age until you get there," she said. "But I think more options, creative options, are going to become available."

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Online:

AARP Public Policy Institute http://bit.ly/SxrqaG

The latest installment in the joint AP-APME project examining the aging of the baby boomers and the impact that this so-called silver tsunami will have on society