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School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

Texas A&M Spearheads Global Research Effort on Aging Drivers’ Impact on Transportation

It is no secret that we are living longer, healthier lives. But, this also means we are driving longer and traveling more. This increasing number of travelers worldwide could have a dramatic impact on congestion, safety, public transportation, and numerous other transportation issues — not only in the United States, but around the world.

Ory Friday Letter
[Photo: Dr. Marcia Ory]

A Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health expert is taking a leading role in a new international effort to discover and predict travel scenarios of aging populations.

A global research team has been assembled to study the issue — comprised of experts from the Texas A&M School of Public Health and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), along with transportation experts from China, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom. The project, “Changing Mobility Patterns of the Senior Generation,” is sponsored by the Institute for Mobility Research (IFMR), the research arm of automobile manufacturer the BMW Group.

Aging specialist Dr. Marcia Ory, associate dean of research and regents and distinguished professor with the Texas A&M School of Public Health, and TTI senior research scientist Dr. Johanna Zmud are leading the consortium of experts. The team will examine historical travel patterns of the senior population in their respective countries, determine what factors will impact future driving behaviors and produce simulation models that predict future scenarios for senior drivers through 2025.

Aging populations in different countries are not all the same. For example, Japan has the longest average life expectancy at age 84, the United States is 79 and China is 75.

“It’s safe to assume that the amount of mobility is different among countries, as well,” Dr. Ory said. “In some countries, people rely on vehicles to get around, while others walk a lot. My role is to provide country-specific aging perspectives to the data. This research is extremely important, with a lot of implications for the future, because the fastest growing population is people over 65, and they are healthier than they have ever been.”

Dr. Zmud explained that in the past there used to be a decline in trip making following retirement. “People are retiring later in life, which should mean they are still commuting to work,” she said. “What impacts will that have, especially as this trend continues? I expect to see numerous changes that will likely impact future travel behaviors.”

As they develop future mobility models for seniors, the researchers will also consider the changes in automotive technologies, like automatic braking, blind spot detection and collision avoidance, that could make it easier and safer for seniors to drive.

The project began in January, and the team will meet in London in April to review its progress. A final detailed report is expected by the end of 2016.

“The transportation sector will be strongly influenced by demographic changes, due to distinct differences in mobility patterns of older people compared to younger generations,” IFMO senior researcher Peter Phelps said. “Older adults have always been a very important target group for BMW Group products. We need to understand how the mobility behavior this age group, and others, might change in the next 10 to 20 years in order to derive the right requirements for future products, as well as mobility services such as car or ride sharing.”