This month, and the final in our series on “Emerging Trends for older drivers”, we have had some guest blog writers come on board. Williams OT invited Dr Mandy Stanley and Dr Akshay Vij if they would like to tell us about their current research and investigation into the emergence of driverless cars and the impact this would have on the ageing population. Driverless cars is a very hot topic at the moment and one that is of high interest to Williams Occupational Therapy and our clientele.
Ageing, mobility and driverless cars
As most Australians are aware the proportion of Australians aged 65 years or older is predicted to nearly double in the next fifty years. One of the most commonly reported problems facing older Australians is a need for assistance with mobility and transport. Driving cessation is routinely cited as a cause for increased depression and lower quality of life. The effects of driving cessation have typically been managed through the use of strategies that foster the creation of more walkable environments, the provision of alternative modes of motorized transportation, and the dissemination of information that can help older adults plan and prepare for future transport needs. However, none of these strategies offer the same level of mobility and accessibility as the continued ability to drive.
Driverless cars are motorized vehicles that are capable of navigating without human input. The first fully self-driving car has been promised as early as 2020, and the technology holds irremediable implications for urban travel and land use, particularly for older adults. Driverless cars could offer similar levels of mobility and accessibility as the continued ability to drive, without requiring major shifts in existing lifestyles.
For example, a large fraction of Australians have lived for most of their lives in largely suburban or rural neighborhoods built around the use of the car. When driving is no longer a feasible option, they have chosen either to continue living in the same neighborhood, relying upon their friends and family to fulfill their mobility needs, or to relocate to a new neighborhood with better access to amenities, at the risk of being further removed from their familiar environment. The arrival of driverless cars could remove the need to choose between these different but similarly imperfect scenarios, offering that ideal where those unable to drive could both fulfil their mobility needs independently and maintain social contacts.
Despite their promise, a number of technological and legal concerns about driverless cars remain unresolved. From a technological standpoint, potential concerns include risk of equipment failure, fear of relinquishing control and threat from online hackers. From a legal standpoint, potential concerns include liability in case of collision with other cars, pedestrians or property, and ethicality should an unavoidable crash situation involving other individuals arise. The technology’s dependence on passengers’ willingness to trust a computer to safely navigate a wide variety of driving situations will make public attitudes toward driverless cars one of the most important determinants of the adoption and diffusion of automated vehicle technology.
What about older drivers?
Older adults are typically the most reluctant to adopt new technologies, and there is the additional concern that the segment that could benefit the most from automated vehicle technology may likely be the last to gain from it. And yet, not much is known about the attitudes of older adults towards driverless cars, and their willingness to pay for access to the same. And even less is understood about how changes in these attitudes over time, as may be the case once the technology matures and a robust legal framework falls into place, are going to impact future willingness to pay.
How do we address the gap in knowledge?
To address this knowledge gap, the University of South Australia is currently undertaking a study that will help us understand the attitudes of older adults towards driverless cars, and their willingness to pay for access to the same. As part of the study, we will be launching an online survey in April 2017, to be taken by Australians aged 55 years and older. The survey will ask participants about their current mobility patterns, and how they think they might change if they had access to self-driving cars through shared mobility services, such as Uber.
Would you like to be involved?
We are always looking for additional participants. If you are interested in taking part, send an email to Akshay.Vij@unisa.edu.au.
Your participation can help us identify key barriers to the adoption and diffusion of driverless cars among older adults, and how they could be overcome. Findings from this study are expected to be of value to government agencies, aged care providers, community groups and older Australians. With your help, we can better understand if and how new transportation technologies and services can be leveraged to offer greater mobility and higher quality of life for an ageing national population.