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J Safety Res. 2003;34(4):461-70.

The 2001 National Household Travel Survey: a look into the travel patterns of older Americans.

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Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S. Department of Transportation, 400 Seventh Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20590, USA.



The main objective of this paper is to highlight travel patterns of older adults living in the United States as depicted in the 2001 National Household Travel Survey (NHTS). The NHTS is a national data collection program sponsored by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics and the Federal Highway Administration. It is the first national comprehensive household survey of both daily and long-distance travel, allowing for analysis of the full continuum of personal travel by Americans. To better understand the transportation needs of older Americans, it is useful to examine how travel patterns differ across age groups. The intent is to present basic travel characteristics of older adults (age 65+) and allow for comparisons with younger adults (ages 19-64). Travel-related characteristics of older adults in the United States: Results of the 2001 survey showed that older Americans travel extensively and rely on personal vehicles as heavily as their younger counterparts. Older Americans conduct 89% of their travel in personal vehicles.


Older adults tend to be less mobile in that they take fewer trips, travel shorter distances, and have shorter travel times. This pattern is even more pronounced among older women. They are also more likely to suffer from self-reported medical conditions that further limit their travel. Characteristics of long-distance travel by older adults: Older men and women take long-distance trips at about the same rates and show a strong preference for using personal vehicles. And, while men and women take an equal percentage of their trips by air, older women show a strong preference for bus travel.


Although older Americans travel extensively, they are less mobile than their younger counterparts. This pattern is more pronounced among older women and among those with self-reported medical conditions that affect their ability to travel outside their home. Older women consistently take the least number of trips per day, have the lowest driving rates, travel the shortest distances, and are more likely to report medical conditions that limit their travel. For men and women who have to give up driving, alternative means of transportation becomes a necessity. Yet, use of alternative transportation is relatively low; excluding personal vehicle and walking, all other means of transportation account for about 2% of daily travel. Further, of those with medical conditions that affect their travel, only about 12% use special transportation services such as dial-a-ride.

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