An automotive forecaster predicts a greater emphasis on vehicle safety to address an expected increase in the number of bad drivers in the U.S.

Those sub-par motorists of the future would come from opposite ends of the population spectrum: young people with little driving experience and older motorists whose driving skills are waning, says Sean McAlinden of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, MI.

The U.S. will see population increases for both those age groups; from young people because of the boom that is Generation Y, and from old people because they are living longer.

“Vehicle safety will matter more than ever” because of those demographics, says McAlinden.

“We're about to see earth-shattering changes in population trends. As a result, it will be the most diverse driving population in U.S. history,” he says at a Detroit symposium, “The 21st Century Automotive Customer,” sponsored by the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

An Automobile Club of Southern California analysis of California crash data indicates that drivers, ages 15-17, were at fault in 68% of the fatal crashes in which they were involved.

By 2030, people age 65 and older are expected to represent 25% of the driving population and 25% of fatal crash involvements, according to federal forecasts.

Population increases will result in about 43 million more cars being on U.S. roadways by 2020, says McAlinden. It will make for crowded highways unless traffic engineers come up with solutions for such congestion, he says.

He predicts annual vehicle sales will routinely be 20 million units (compared with about 17 million now).

“While we'll see more younger and older buyers because of shifting population trends, there will be fewer middle-age buyers, who have so far dominated the market,” he says.

Besides cars being safer, there will be a need for more variety in vehicles to appeal to diverse tastes, including those of 35 million immigrants. And with so many more young buyers, vehicle affordability will take on greater importance, McAlinden predicts.