A new milestone: 1 million senior drivers on Washington state roads

The number of Washington state drivers age 65 or older has surged since 2010 by 41 percent — and at nearly three times the overall rate of increase among licensed drivers here.

There’s been such heavy focus on the wave of millennials flooding into our area, it’s easy to forget that it’s seniors who are the fastest-growing segment of Washington’s — and even Seattle’s — population.

In 2015, the state hit a demographic milestone: The number of folks age 65-plus hit 1 million.

And the number of them who drive? That just passed the same milestone, according to an analysis of records from the state Department of Licensing.

As of December, there were 1,037,969 Washingtonians age 65-plus with active driver’s licenses. Their ranks increased by more than 46,000 over the course of last year, passing the 1 million mark in the process.

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There’s no mystery here. Aging baby boomers — that massive generation born between 1946 and 1964 — are swelling the ranks of our senior population. The oldest boomers are now in their early 70s. And, like everyone else, nearly all of them get behind the wheel.

That’s why, since the start of the decade, the number of senior drivers in Washington has surged by 41 percent, which is more than three times faster than the overall rate of increase.

Double-digit growth rates can be seen in every county in the state. In Clark, San Juan and Thurston counties, the number of senior drivers grew by more than 50 percent. Even in Columbia County — it’s the only county in Washington where the total driving population is shrinking — seniors with licenses still increased by 18 percent.

Of the 5.8 million licensed drivers in Washington, nearly 1 in 5 now is age 65 or older. Jefferson County, where Port Townsend is located, tops the state for the share of drivers who are senior citizens, at 39 percent. King County, though, is one of the state’s youngest counties. Drivers age 65-plus are just 14 percent of the total here.

Is the surge in older drivers a safety concern?

Traffic-safety experts predicted years ago that the aging boomers would spike the number of fatal road collisions, but those fears haven’t materialized. That’s due in part to the improved safety technology of cars, which has helped reduce the number of deadly crashes. And boomers, as it turns out, are in better physical shape than past generations of…

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