A diverse mix of people travelling on a bus

Giving up driving in later life – facing the issues

Many of us will face the need to stop driving as we move into later life. This can have a profound impact on our lives, especially if we have come to rely on our cars for our day-to-day needs.

What practical steps can we take to improve the way we cope with this major change in our habits and outlook? Important insights into this question have been uncovered by a researcher at the University of the West of England.

Dr Charles Musselwhite has been supported by an Early Career Researcher Award from UWE Bristol. Working in its Centre for Transport and Society, he has sought to identify the detailed issues involved from the perspective of older people themselves.

More and more people are continuing to drive in later life: Why is car use so important to them, and how are they affected when they have to give it up?

Dr Musselwhite gathered data over a period of 18 months with older people from various places in the UK who were in the process of giving-up driving. He found a variety of reasons why people consider giving up driving, including not feeling fit enough to continue driving, or no longer needing to drive to work because of retirement.

Importantly, he found that the quality of life they experienced after giving-up driving was generally higher if they had actively planned in advance for this major change, for example by trying out alternative modes of transport. Those who had given up driving reactively, for example as a result of pressure to do so from other people, reported a lower quality of life. This was also affected by other factors, such as how flexible they were about their travel destinations and how much practical and emotional support they received from family and friends.

Preparing for alternatives

Dr Musselwhite suggests that people can help prepare for this step by beginning to make use of alternative means of transport well before they face the need to give up driving completely, so that it is not a sudden step into the unknown.

It is important, he says, that this process be supported not only by friends and family but by wider society. This support should be emotional as well as practical, perhaps by means of groups that meet regularly and discuss travel-related issues. Such groups could facilitate practical offers of lifts, arrange to meet to share public transport journeys, and draw members' attention to information resources to address their needs.

Impact and recognition

The research is part of Dr Musselwhite's growing portfolio of influential research on older people and their travel behaviour, road user safety and attitudes towards transport. He has been invited to present at national and International conferences and to make a presentation to Members of Parliament. This led to him being asked to advise the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety on older people's road safety. In 2011, he was invited to write a thinkpiece for the International Longevity Centre on how older people can give-up driving successfully, subsequently launched at the House of Lords.

His many media appearances include an interview as part of a BBC television documentary, and appearances on British and Swedish radio stations.

Building on the support he received at UWE Bristol, Dr Musselwhite has recently been appointed as Reader at Swansea University's Centre for Innovative Ageing.

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