In the past 100 years, the automobile and the independence it affords have literally changed the world. That’s why for many seniors, losing the ability to safely drive is so devastating. It can lead to depression and isolation, both of which are proven to be detrimental to seniors’ health. However, thanks to several innovative transportation solutions, seniors are able to regain the freedom of easily and safely getting where they want to go.

A safety issue

When it comes to driving, priority number one is always safety. And that’s one of the reasons it is important to consider whether a senior can safely remain behind the wheel. Not only does our vision and hearing typically decline with age, so do our reaction times and reflexes, according to the National Institute on Aging.

On top of these normal age-related issues, statistics from the American Automobile Association (AAA) reveal that with the exception of teen drivers, older drivers (over age 64) also have the highest crash death rate per mile driven, even though seniors drive fewer miles on average than younger drivers. While older people are often very cautious, defensive drivers, when they do have a car accident, their fatality rates are 17 times higher than people who are 25 to 64 years old. The reason? Older people’s overall health is often more fragile than younger people’s, as are their bones.

Thankfully, though, there are an ever-increasing number of innovative transportation options that are available to seniors in today’s world.

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The sharing economy

You may have heard the buzz around the “sharing economy,” in which owners rent out something that they aren’t currently using — be it a house, a bike, a computer, or a vehicle. Ride-sharing companies like Lyft and Uber fall into this collective consumption concept, and both of these companies have sought new ways to appeal to older customers, including the ability to book a ride using a more traditional dispatcher model (versus the automated app, which may appeal to the more tech-savvy among us).

Additionally, there are new niche ride-sharing services that are targeted specifically to the senior demographic. Go Go Grandparent, for example, is a ride-hailing service for people who don’t have smartphones or who simply aren’t comfortable with technology. The service goes a step further than industry leaders Uber and Lyft, however, by employing “professional grandchildren” to make sure the ride is satisfactory, and also offering the option to alert a caregiver where the rider is going, who the driver is, and when they have arrived safely at their destination.

Liberty Mobility Now is another niche ride-sharing service that works in tandem with public transportation as well as companies like Lyft and Uber. A so-called “first- and last-mile solution,” Liberty helps people in many rural areas to get to a public transportation hub, filling in the geographic gaps that other transportation services don’t currently cover.

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Driverless cars

In addition to driver-hailing technology and services, there are even more high-tech transportation options on the horizon. We are living in an era of rapid automation of everything from manufacturing to shopping to banking. But one area of automation that may be especially exciting for seniors is the strides we’d made in recent years toward autonomous vehicles.

A recent article showcased the various new driverless shuttles that are currently being tested. You may have seen some of the recent headlines about accidents involving self-driving automobiles on the open road, but this article specifically highlights the testing being done for driverless shuttles in more predicable “closed course”-type settings, like airports or arenas, which have proven to be very effective and safe.

The article explains that all self-driving vehicles thrive on predictability, since they are constantly recording and synthesizing information about their surroundings and routes, which they then use on future runs. Given this functionality of the technology, autonomous shuttles could be a perfect fit for retirement communities, which have low speed limits and predictable routes — say, from the pool to the dining hall or even from the community’s club house to nearby shopping or restaurants.

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CCRC transportation services

In our recent consumer survey of hundreds of prospective continuing care retirement community (CCRC) residents, “flexible transportation services or ride-share programs” was one of the top-rated choices among our list of attractive features in a CCRC. It fact, this service was rated a 4.14 on a 5-point scale in terms of importance.

It’s worth noting too that in the survey’s write-in comments, one respondent observed that communities should at minimum remove their name and logo from the side of their shuttles — “It’s embarrassing to emerge from one of those on its weekly trip to Wal-Mart!” the respondent remarked. While this is the opinion of an individual, and others may feel differently, it is worth heeding as it may very well speak to the sentiments of the next generation of retirees, who are also the next group of would-be CCRC residents.

As it stands today, most retirement communities, including CCRCs, do still rely on a traditional bus or van for the community’s resident transportation needs. And this very practical solution works really well in most cases. However, considering the autonomous automobile and shuttle technology that is currently being perfected, it’s going to be really exciting to see which retirement communities decide to get ahead of the curve (pun intended) to better meet the expectations of the next generation of retirees.

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