The trend toward older drivers puts pressure on automakers to design and develop vehicles that are potentially safer for the elderly.
The federal government says inflatable seatbelts, crash-avoidance technologies, vehicle-to-vehicle communication and technologies that help prevent low-speed pedal misapplication may have potential benefits for older drivers and vehicle occupants.
The needs of the aging driver population also may speed up the development of self-driving vehicles. Such vehicles would provide greater independence for older consumers with mobility and vision problems.
The nation's infrastructure will also need improvements.
"Knowing that older drivers are one of our fastest-growing populations helps us realize the importance of transportation investment — especially for research," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement. "In the decades ahead, our roads will serve even more older drivers — making it critical that we invest in our nation's infrastructure and use state-of-the-art research to ensure the road system is ready to meet their needs."
The data show there were 212.2 million licensed drivers in 2013. Drivers over 50 years old reached nearly 93.5 million in 2013 — an increase of 22 percent since 2003 or over 44.1 percent of total licensed drivers.
Drivers over 85 years old are the fastest-growing demographic group, nearly doubling from 1.76 million in 1993 to 3.48 million in 2013.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed a "silver rating" system for vehicles, a designation designed to help older car shoppers determine the best choice for their needs.
Edmunds says: Car shoppers over 50 can rely on their dealers to point out technologies that will keep them safer behind the wheel.