Category Archives: travel and the elderly

The Autonomous Car: Double Blessing for Boomers

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The Autonomous Car will be a double blessing for Baby Boomers, the generation that is currently between ages 51 and 69.

Transportation experts know that the autonomous car is well suited to aging Baby Boomers, because it will keep them mobile, and enable them to travel- even when their health or eyesight fail. This is an essential problem, since even today 21 percent of the population over 65 does not drive.

The double blessing is more subtle. As people age, they have basic needs to get outdoors, to exercise, amble safely, and stay on their feet.  Older American tourists often comment that they walk extensively when they travel abroad, but have difficulty continuing the habit at home.  

MAKING STREETS SAFER..FOR PEDS

Here is where the autonomous car will help- by making the streets safer for all users, not only for drivers, but also for pedestrians and mobility devices, like the street legal scooter. Traffic engineers seem to design streets with the reaction times of an average 40 year old in mind. But, with an aging population, there are new baselines for the autonomous car to accommodate.

For example, an elderly person may require more time to cross a busy street. The elderly person may be tired, slow on their feet or riding a scooter.  At a busy intersection they may find the standard 15 or 30 second pedestrian walk cycle to be daunting. So, through no faulty of their own, they are stranded in the intersection when the light turns green. A car operated by a human driver will honk, swerve and hopefully, slide to a stop. The autonomous car will detect a pedestrian (age neutral) in the intersection and not move.

FIRST MILE/LAST MILE

The autonomous car accommodates this. Another need that comes with age is  “first mile/last mile” assisted travel. Older pedestrians may have the best intentions to get out, walk about, and keep mobile but first they need to get to a safe place… with sidewalks. Many Boomers, who plan to age-in-place live in modern suburbs that lack sidewalks, walkable paths or trails. They must first travel by car to reach a safe place to exercise. But what if they are not capable or able drivers? The autonomous car will help them cover the “first mile” and bring them to the walking track.

STREET LEGAL VEHICLES AND THE DARK

There is a third transportation baseline. A growing number of users, mostly older,  employ street legal electric scooters, electric driven wheelchairs, and in the future “Uni-Cub/Honda” like robots. Operators of these devices, riding on public streets, know how dangerous it is for them to co-mingle with bigger vehicles. In the daytime their mobility vehicles are barely registered by regular drivers, and at night they seem to be invisible. The NHTSA (see link below) reports that 72 percent of pedestrian fatalities take place when it is dark outside. The autonomous car will make mobility safer for riders of scooters and wheelchairs. It will detect them in all lighting conditions, and faster than human-drivers.

In the current configuration of sidewalks and city streets, older pedestrians face many risks. The risks come from driver’s who do not obey speed limits, drivers distracted by phones and dashboards, and simply human error.  The National Highway Traffic Safety  Administration  (NHTSA) reports that in an estimated 94 percent of crashes, human error is the critical cause. Vehicle related factors are the critical reason in only 2 percent. They report that in 2014 there were 4,844 pedestrian deaths, and 66,000 injured.  On average, a pedestrian was killed every 2 hours and injured every 8 minutes in traffic crashes. (Note: across all age groups). Two final numbers: Nineteen percent of the pedestrian fatalities in 2013, and an estimated 10 percent of those injured were people 65 and older.

THE DIFFUSION CURVE.. SAFE, THEN SAFER!

The autonomous car has a diffusion curve of some import. As more of these vehicles substitute for conventional cars, there will be fewer accidents between cars, and reduced pedestrian/biker/scooter collisions. Then, at some “tipping point” when autonomous cars outnumber conventional vehicles, the safety factor will grow exponentially as the rules of the road change. The results could lead to lower speed limits, reduced travel lanes, safer curb cuts, and the like. Streets will be less dangerous and more functional for both cars and people. Hence the double blessing.

This is only good news to an aging Baby Boomer population. Boomers are known as a  generation that continually reinvents itself and “rethinking mobility” can be their last and greatest reinvention. There is no reason to expect Boomers tol remain wedded to cars with steering wheels, when an autonomous car promises to extend the longevity of their “vehicle years.”  Even more importantly, the autonomous car will extend the longevity of their “non-vehicle years” and help them get out and about as pedestrians.

The True Cost of Aging in Place

ecohealthIt is unsettling to think that aging-in-place can compromise your health. But, over the long run, it might. When Boomers wake up to the true cost of staying put, aging in suburbia may become an anachronism, a relic from their old, unhealthy days.

Twenty years ago, the Boomer mantra was to settle in safe, child-friendly neighborhoods. The mantra is changing as aging Boomers seek neighborhoods that will increase their activity levels, decrease stress, and help them stay “wellderly (well+ elderly) longer.

Keeping “wellderly” is not a new aspiration. Boomers like to think that they are healthy and, as a generation, they have embraced active lifestyles, gym memberships, and organic/healthy food choices. More than 1 in 3 say that they have a regular exercise schedule and the fastest-growing age group purchasing health club members are those age 55+.

BOOMERS AND HEALTH DATA

Despite this outward embrace, the wellness outcomes are not positive. Boomers are less healthy than the generation before them. (Some of this may be a reporting issue- as health data is now more carefully monitored). A 2006 National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) study found the psychiatric rate to be 21 percent among Boomers, compared with eight percent for the previous cohort. It was also found that 60% of 51 to 56 year old Boomer men born from 1948 to 1953 had chronic health problems, compared with 53% of the cohort born from 1936 to 1941 at the same ages. The Boomer generation is more likely than their parents to suffer from obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The sobering statistic is that only 13 percent of Baby Boomers reported being in excellent health compared with 32% of those in the previous generation, and 52 percent of Boomers said they got no regular physical activity compared with 17% of their parents at the same age.

This is a generation that smokes less than their parents and has access to more comprehensive medical care, so what is going on?

SEDENTARY HABITS TAKE THEIR TOLL

The likely culprit is that Boomers are more sedentary- they walk less and drive more. Workers in the U.S. have an average commute time of 50 + minutes, shopping is spread out over a small number of superstores serving a bigger region, and, 2009 travel data estimates Americans make, on average, 470 car trips to stores each year. In other large economies, like Germany, car transportation is less ingrained in everyday activities, so seniors walk and bike more and that keeps their weight off. Sitting in cars is not good for the waistline: in fact, the most obese workers in the US are in the transportation industry- truck drivers, followed by bus drivers, and the like. But, time spent in cars does not tell the full story. Baby Boomers are often obsese  and have high cholesterol because of their life-styles and food choices.

IS IT HEALTHY TO AGE-IN-SUBURBIA?

If the Baby Boomers choose to age-in-place in suburbia, they will eventually come head to head” with their lifestyle choices. Although they plan to drive to the gym or yoga class, or do miles on an indoor running track, these recreational activities are seldom sustained over the longer run. Experts on aging-in-place foresee the ability to order things in, and have robotic help. But, staying indoors is likely to contribute to waistline woes, and fuel depression and anxiety.

So, the Baby Boomers will be facing-up to the health consequences of choosing to age-in-place. Aging consultants like to insist that modifying the home- things like installing grab bars, non-slip surfaces, and extra lighting will be the panacea. Literally, this is a bill of goods. The real need, for self-sufficiency, independence, and exercise- must take place at the neighborhood level. When health becomes the priority- it will hold more sway than keeping the now-empty family home and perhaps be more coveted than vacations, luxury cars, and appetizing restaurant meals.

Age-Friendly Rethinking For Mobility

Baby Boomers did not move into their parent’s houses. For the most part they shunned the cramped apartments in bigger cities, the sprawling solitary farmhouses, and the turn-of-the century walk-ups and Victorians. Instead, the Baby Boomers rebuilt the US housing stock, and in most cases, these new homes defined the modern suburbs.

A RETHINK TO AGE-IN-PLACE

Today, as Baby Boomers age, they are rethinking how these suburban homes will accommodate an aging lifestyle. The journalist, Sally Abrahms, observes in a Wall St. Journal article that a mini “baby boom building boom” is taking place. There is a rethink going on among those who wish to age-in-place. There is recognition of retrofitting for future needs like homes that have a bedroom on the first floor, an easy-to-maintain interior and exterior, and curbless doors and floors.

Given their propensity to plan ahead, the Boomers next Rethink’ should take place in the attached, but homely multi-car garage. The reason is that as people age they become less able to drive safely. In 2001, an estimated 23 percent of older adults were afflicted with mobility impairments. These are defined as medical conditions that make travel outside the home difficult. Afflictions like arthritis and diabetes, and age-related losses in memory and vision combine to make people less mobile, and less able to drive.

RETHINKING MOBILITY-IN-PLACE

It remains to be seen whether Baby Boomers will be a healthier generation than their elders, or whether pockets of obesity and prescription drug use will take a toll. In 2013, 21 percent of the population over age 65 did not drive, but most of the cutback takes place at age 75 and beyond. It is well known that older drivers reduce the number of miles they travel (think less commuting) but the trends are changing. Retired Boomers take more individual trips and the average yearly mileage for those 70 and above is increasing. Inopportunely, it is women who cease driving sooner.

Unless Baby Boomers come to grips with the transportation issues, they will not be well equipped to age-in-place. This is particularly important for women, who may outlive their spouses, but are intending to remain in their family-friendly homes. While some Boomers will have perfectly intact homes that are well designed and thought out, they must reinvent their methods of transportation. How will they get around when they are less able drivers? Depending on the neighbors, adult children, or the paratransit van are not good solutions.

The need to think this through is important, since nearly 70% of the Boomers have settled in areas beyond the reach of public transportation. Fortunately, new transportation technologies are on the horizon and may be just-in-time when the oldest Boomers reach age 75 or so. In 2025 the AARP estimates that one in every five drivers will be over the age of 65 (and the oldest of the Boomers will be age 79).

COMING FULL CIRCLE:

Meanwhile, the homes that the Baby Boomers did not move into- their parents’ cramped apartments in big cities, and the turn-of-the century walk-ups and Victorians- these homes are getting renewed attention. That’s because they are centrally located near transit, and likely to be close-in for jobs, schools, restaurants, gyms, and more. So, both Millennials and the Boomers are bidding up the price of these rentals in urban, transit-friendly cities and inner suburbs. Meanwhile, the sprawling solitary farmhouses- many of them don’t really exist any more in the Northeast and Midwest. That’s because they were turned into the sprawling housing tracts and suburbia that Baby Boomers now call home-sweet-home.

Aging in Suburbia-Anew

densityBaby Boomers who want to Age in Suburbia might find a new way to do so:  they will be able to cut back on their driving, but still be near the center of their favorite neighborhood and stores. The new paradigm is called suburban density. Builders of shopping centers, office parks and malls are learning to blend. Their new building sites will co-mingle apartments (or condos), office buildings, and retail centers.  The design is borrowed from the cities, but customized for open spaces.  One of the key design elements is to circle these new dense suburban centers with better connections for pedestrians and bicyclists.

An example of “suburban density” comes from a development underway in a suburb of Indianapolis, called Keystone.  According to the Wall St. Journal, the developer plans a 198 unit luxury apartment building, next to an existing shopping center. Across the street is an (existing) upscale mall. The three properties will be connected by wider sidewalks, and with an intention to add a one-mile long trail that will loop around an adjacent lake.

It is not that suburban density has not been tried before- but it seemed to begin with the car at its center. So, the linkages between buildings depended upon driving from place to place, even if they were just ¼ of a mile, or less distance apart.  Older suburbs like Silver Spring, Maryland and Stamford, Connecticut come to mind. Zoning played a big role in the transportation problems- if the office building was isolated from home, and home was isolated from the shops, then there was not much reason to walk. It was easier to get in the car and drive….even if the destination was across the street.  In the newer paradigm, the priority is supposed to favor pedestrians and non-motorized transportation.

So, putting an apartment building in the center and densifying the suburbs is both an old, and new, concept.  It cannot come too soon for traditional suburbs, which are seeing the erosion of their commercial base and failing shopping malls. It is  estimated that that 20 enclosed malls have been shuttered over the last few years and there are another 60 on the endangered list.  A book called Retail Revolution: Will your Brick and Mortar Store Survive? posits that e-commerce is taking its bite and expenditures by middle-income shoppers are declining.

What may be overlooked in the declining sales numbers is that many of the middle-income shoppers are also Baby Boomers. Boomers are buying more online, contributing to e-commerce growth. At the same time, they are cutting back overall expenditures, because their families are grown and they have fewer, pressing purchases to make. Meanwhile, they need to save for retirement.

The retail community can hope that if the Boomers choose to move into these new style suburban apartments two trends will co-occur: First, Boomers will spend more of their leisure time, making purchases in the stores, restaurants, and entertainment centers. Also, some of the Boomers might hang on to jobs, and extend their working years by relocating near the office-park.  It all remains to be seen, but a denser suburbia is a glimmer of change that might not attract traffic (too much). It could advance a new place for Aging in Suburbia.

Housing Mismatch

etsyDateline Boston:  Home sweet home is getting pricey at both ends of the age spectrum. Young adults and their aging parents are engaged in an escalating and increasingly expensive struggle for….an affordable place to live. The first wave of a housing-mismatch is taking place in Boston, Mass., in San Francisco, Ca., and other metropolitan areas that team with affluent and young tech workers. Boomers live further out, in homes that are too big and need to downsize. Millennials are choosing to live closer-in, and prefer residences that require less upkeep. Neither group (Millennials or Boomers) can find alternatives that are affordable, per Boston Globe writer Deidre Fernandez.

A housing study, completed at the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, notes a housing market out-of-synch with its buyers. Millennials are finding it difficult to live where they work and play, and they are also strapped by high rents. It is difficult for them to save for future homes, since 1/3 of their income, sometimes more, is committed to paying the monthly rent.

The research study shows that between 2000 and 2010 Boston, Mass. (Suffolk County) experienced a 10.2% percentage- change growth in population ages 20 to 34, while the further-out suburbs experienced losses. Plymouth Mass., for example, had a 8.9% percentage change loss in younger residents. Over the same time period, average rentals went from an asking price of $1,462 in 2000 to $1,696 in 2010, and in 2014 they escalated to $1,957.

Meanwhile, lower income people are being pushed out further, presumably into the suburbs. Traditional triple-decker homes, a staple of Massachusetts domiciles, were once the province of working class families. Today, Millennials are choosing to live here, as these 3-plex homes are closer-in, near transit, and can accommodate several roommates.

So, the Millennials are moving towards the city- in this case Boston- while the population in the suburbs are getting older and poorer.

This is not promising news for Baby Boomers. If they have intended to unload their home in Massachusetts suburbs like Plymouth or Weymoth and move closer to the city, they will lack for affluent and eager buyers, Although their homes have appreciated, the appreciation may be less than they counted on for a comfortable retirement.

On the other hand, if they decide to age-in-place, their familiar neighborhood may take on a new character. The residents will likely be new immigrant groups, hourly workers who have migrated from the city, and other older people, like themselves. Over time, the tax base will erode- the one that has supported the good libraries, the quality public schools, and other public services. Unless the real estate values continue to appreciate and the fully employed move back, the tax base will not grow.

And, finally– there is the transportation. Always the transportation. With an older population that does not commute on a daily basis, public transportation, always a scarce resource, will be directed towards workers in other locales. Although the Boomers who age-in-place do not place a high priority on public transportation, there will be long drives to shop, to visit, and go to the doctor’s office. The suburban landscape has always been spread out, but it is become more so as malls close, and entertainment and shopping move to the Internet.

Boomers that age-in-place will continue to have their large homes, while a younger generation seeks something smaller, more connected, and most of all, closer-in. The Baby Boomers are a car-centric cohort that have built their lifestyles around automobiles. The Millennials, whether they live in Boston or San Francisco are Digital Natives, and are finding other ways to express their freedom, individuality, and (ahum) drive.

Driverless Car and Aging Drivers

growth of drivers and growth of car ownership US since 1960

 

The driverless car is a pivotal technology for those who want to age in place, particularly when that place is suburbia. As people get old and more frail, they should consider giving up the car. Instead, they may  continue to drive because there are few other options, particularly in the far-flung suburbs. Just in time  for Baby Boomers, may arrive the disruptive technology called the driverless car. It could fill the vacuum in suburbs left open by the lack of public transportation.

The driverless car is  mysterious and misunderstood today. People often react with a respectful mistrust of robotics and Artificial Intelligence. But, the automated car is like the cell phone. In the 1990’s most people did not have one, and could not picture a use for it. Today, they cannot imagine how they lived without one.

In an earlier blog we wrote about the technology of the driverless car….the mechanical and engineering hurdles that must be resolved. There remain  roadblocks that are as substantive as the engineering. For the driverless car, that roadblock has, and will continue to be,  issues of liability and vehicle insurance. Like any car, accidents will happen. 

That said, there is good news about safety and accidents. There will be less accidents when cars become automated. It is estimated that 40 percent of fatal crashes involve alcohol, drugs, distraction, or fatigue and an estimated 90 percent of all accidents are due to human error. The driverless car brings another advantage: there will be less traffic jams, and better use of road capacity when cars are automated and communicate with a central traffic server. That said, a certain degree of traffic, and a certain level of accidents, will remain.

The Wall St. Journal (3/5/15) reports that at  major insurance agencies are waking up to the “risk factors” from driverless cars and alerting investors. This is an enormous issue for the insurance issue to deal with,  since the Journal reports that they collected $175 billion in passenger car auto insurance issues in 2013.  For the insurance industry, there is a second type of risk, beyond vehicle crashes:  financial risk from an industry sea-change.  The driverless car has been mentioned in security filings by Cincinnati Financial Corp., Mercury General, and Travelers Insurance. http://www.wsj.com/articles/will-the-driverless-car-upend-insurance-1425428891

The current assessment  seems to be that the driverless car will transform how car insurance is priced. On the one hand, liability may shift towards the manufacturers of the cars. And, while accidents will be less common,  driverless cars are more complicated, and will be more expensive to repair, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Of course, all of these estimates are early, “risky”, and preliminary.

There is currently  an average 16% turn-over of cars in the US every year. When the driverless car comes to market, it will be  permanently change both the insurance industry and  trends for car-ownership. For those aging in suburbia, it is a disruptive technology that will bring entirely new possibilities.  Aging Boomers are peaking as car-buyers, but they will not be retiring from the future auto markets.

Baby Boom Women & Their Homes

better-homes-and-gardens-march-2008bedbath

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baby Boomer women  (females currently between ages 51 and 69) take great pride in their Homes: they have equated home with family, worked extra time to pay the mortgage, and spent their discretionary income (if any) on home improvements and décor. Certain retailers personify the suburban home: Williams-Sonoma, Restoration Hardware, and Bed Bath and Beyond. These stores celebrate ‘Home’. But, since 2008, these home-goods stores have not been gaining economic ground. Boomer women may find an analogy: their suburban homes may tether them to an earlier time and thwart them from a prosperous retirement.

The recent book, Aging Well in Suburbia, Gray Homes|Green Cars notes multiple reasons why suburban homes may be no place for old men… the reasons are even more compelling for women.

Women, Age, and Mobility 

The overarching reason has to do with mobility. As they age, women tend to reduce the frequency of car trips, and the length of their travel, sooner than men. Perhaps women, more realistically than men, assess the hazard of a car accident and injuring others. Curiously, Baby Boomer women were the first cohort to drive almost as much as men and claim dual-car households (see: McGuckin and Lynott, AARP Public Policy Institute) Yet they are already leading the charge to cut back their driving. In 2009, only 89 percent of women, aged fifty to sixty-four were drivers, compared with 95 percent of men that age (see: Lynott and Figuerido, AARP). Among women over age seventy-five (The Silent Generation) only 61 percent were drivers.

To the extent that women choose to age in the suburbs, this is a disturbing trend. If the ability to drive is compromised, a suburban home could make aging-in-place a lonelier, more isolating experience. Although home delivery services are burgeoning, a package dropped at the doorstep is not a substitute for a vital, active connection to the larger community.

Women, Age, and Home Upkeep 

The problems for women who age in suburbia go beyond transportation.  In Aging in Suburbia we observe that maintaining a home and doing basic upkeep has been the purview of both genders. But, because they will live longer older women will, going forward, carry both the mortgage and shoulder more home maintenance.  More than fifty percent of Baby Boomers are retiring with outstanding mortgages, since they bought or refinanced late-in-life. In addition, their homes, many built nearly fifty years ago, require extensive upkeep, plus cutting the grass, painting, keeping the gutters clear, and so on. Although some women will have resources to “outsource” this work, this can be onerous, even with the best of help. In 2011, nearly one-half of older women, age 75+, lived alone (U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services).

Women, Age, and  Reverse Mortgage 

There are additional reasons why Baby Boom women and housing may not mix well. A key one is tied to having sufficient resources to age in place. Boomers, both men and women, are entering retirement with financial worries, due to job losses and private pension woes. They may come to discover that their home can be leveraged as a financial instrument, called the reverse mortgage.

The kicker, however, is that the cash payout for a reverse mortgage is linked to the age of the youngest home-owner named on the deed. Women need to be listed when their spouse applies for a reverse mortgage; otherwise, they will not have legal rights to the property if the spouse dies. There has been a reluctance to list a younger spouse, since it reduces the monthly stipend or lump sum payment from the payout. The payout is based on actuarial data, and lenders reflect the fact that women will outlive male spouses.

Home-Sweet-Home? 

Transportation, home maintenance, and home equity are three issues that will make aging in place a challenge for older women.  These are the tip of the iceberg; yet brand new issues will surface, as the Boomers are the first generation to fully age in far-flung suburbs.  Their suburban homes will be an expensive centerpiece.  Baby Boom women may question whether their daily affairs should rotate around the upkeep of their home, particularly as the need for multi-bedrooms and mega-spaces fades.  When it becomes taxing to drive at night, unsafe to stroll without sidewalks, and maintenance becomes a chore, the essence of home-sweet-home may change.  We pose these questions in Aging in Suburbia, Gray Homes|Green Cars. Boomer women, ever resourceful, who have worked so hard to beautify their existing homes, may discover joyfulness in new ones.

Aging and Driving

aging and transportation ...a new partner, the Smartphone
aging and transportation …a new partner, the Smartphone

Aging and driving will not go well for the Baby Boomers unless they are prepared to learn some new Smartphone lessons.

A recent study looks at how technology helps people get around a city without a car. It turns out that a Smartphone is the entry point. Would-be travelers can access services like real-time transit information, ride-hailing, virtual ticketing, multi-modal trip-planning apps, and bike-share…using their phones.

The travel report about Smartphones was written in 2012 and 2013 by the Frontier Group and the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG)*. They rated 70 cities on the availability of technology-assisted transportation. Austin, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., were ranked as the top three cities. The rankings depended on two criteria: the number of transportation service providers and the number of services available.

This ranking may seem esoteric to those who are car-dependent, but services like Lyft and Uber, car sharing, and real-time bus information are literally “fueled” by technology and Smartphones. For users, they bring entirely new options and expand the availability of transportation choices.

The youngest generation, known as Digital Natives, turn to their phones first when they want to travel. In urban areas, Smartphones help them optimize the route and the travel mode. Meanwhile, they can continue to text or work once they start the trip, assuming they are not a solo driver.

Baby Boomers, on the other hand, are slow to the game and still sitting, solo in their cars often fuming at the traffic. Boomers surely use Google maps to navigate or Nextbus, if they use transit, but few of them delve deeper into their transportation apps. The average Boomer household owns close to two cars, and has little need for alternatives. Yet.

Meanwhile, transportation providers that service older people, like Dial-A-Ride and medical vans, operate completely outside of the mobile app/Smartphone range. There is little attention to how these services can reach the suburbs. As the Frontier report notes, “(governments) .., have not begun to tap into areas beyond the major cities in which they have taken root, surmount economic and other barriers to the use of those alternatives, and explore the potential uses of Internet and mobile communications technologies in expanding access to high-quality public transportation in areas that currently do not have the population density to sustain such service.

Travel in the suburbs continues to reflect the infrastructure and investment of an earlier time before digital communications. The investment in roads and cars suited a country in which Detroit reigned, and one in eight jobs was in automotives. As technology moves forward, there are newer ways to expand our transportation network, without building new roads.

And these new ways will be ever-important (or Uber important), if Baby Boomers wish to age-in-place.

*News story:

http://www.uspirg.org/news/usf/new-report-ranks-70-major-american-cities%E2%80%99-tech-transportation-options

 

Aging and Driving New Tech

nohorse

 

If you are wondering about the status of the driverless vehicle, there is an article by Bryan Reimer that you should read.

http://ppar.oxfordjournals.org/content/24/1/27.full

But first, consider that new vehicles bought off the lot today, are typically equipped with power steering, power brakes, and an automatic transmission. When the Baby Boomers acquired their first cars, in the 1960’s and 1970’s those were “luxury options” that could be ordered on some vehicles, for a hefty fee. As the Baby Boomers age, they can only hope that their final, ultimate vehicle will be equipped with a further set of options: radar-like sensors, adaptive cruise control and automatic braking.

The MIT scientist, Bryan Reimer says that in many ways, the automated, driverless vehicle will solve aging-in-suburbia. A fully automated vehicle will transform business, safety, and urban design…. there will no longer be a need for taxis, designated drivers, and possibly even parking garages. Reimer notes that, “the automated car would all but solve the mobility impairments associated with advancing age.”

However, we are not there yet. Automotive engineering will have to progress through distinct stages. Reimer does not give a timetable for these stages, but if Baby Boomers are sincere in their desire to “age in place,” the ground work needs to be underway. In ten years, the youngest of the Boomers will reach age 60, and nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population will be age 65 and older.

“Level-one stages” of automation, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), are partially met. When a driver looses control, electronic stability control helps “steer” the vehicle and more advanced systems also reduce engine power until control is regained. In 1995, luxury vehicles like Mercedes-Benz and BMW incorporated electronic stability control and it has gradually been recognized for its role in preventing accidents. It has been phased into new car production since 2009 and become mandatory since 2012. Future examples of level-one automations are a collision-imminent braking system, lane keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control.

With level-two automation, drivers will partially cede control of some functions to automation. At level-three, still somewhat undefined says Reimer, there are further functions that move from driver to computer. Parking-assist, which is available on some cars today, is a precursor of automation to come. For some, it is unimaginable to have a car do what many drivers cannot accomplish themselves….parallel parking! But, on a more homely and practical level, motorists might want this capability if they have physical difficulty turning their neck, or moving the steering wheel quickly.

The adoption of the driverless car can be compared to the adoption of cell phones. In the 1990s, cell phones were still expensive and bulky. An interim technology, the cordless, but tethered receiver, initiated users to the advantages of a wireless, mobile phone. If you asked someone in 1990 why he/she needed a mobile phone without a cord, he/she would be puzzled. The driverless car is equally mysterious and misunderstood today. And, until it is more widely demonstrated, people react to it with a certain mistrust of robotics and AI. But, the automated car is like the “cell phone” for those who want to age-in-place and plan to combine aging and driving. Boomers, who are fond of driving today, will seek out this technology as their ticket to aging-in-place, particularly if that place is suburbia.