Balancing mobility, independence and safety for older drivers

The primary aim of this research is to evaluate the safety benefits of a transport planning program which is designed to help older drivers make timely and appropriate decisions about driving. Importantly, the program integrates the concepts of safety with mobility and encourages use of alternate forms of transport.

The outcome of the trial will provide evidence about the potential to enhance safety on the road through changes to driving behaviour.

It is well known that Australia has an ageing population, which certainly presents many new challenges in areas such as health care, community services and transport. Research shows that older drivers have high crash involvement and increased vulnerability to injury on the road. However, for many older Australians, the ability to make their own decisions about driving is vital to independence. While programs to promote safe mobility are in place, there is limited proof of their effectiveness.

The George Institute is leading a new research study investigating driving patterns of older drivers, mobility and road safety in The Hornsby/Ku-ring-gai and Hills Districts, Sydney.  

These districts are amongst the most heavily motorized areas in urban Sydney, where over 85% of private dwellings of people over the age of 70 have a car. For many older members of the community, driving a car provides independence and freedom, particularly in areas that are under-resourced by public transport.

Older people comprise a large sector of the driving population. This sector increases by 25% each decade. By 2030, there will be more than half a million drivers 65 years and over on NSW roads.  

Volunteer drivers over the age of 75 have given up their time to support this Australian-first study evaluating driving patterns and transport needs for older drivers.  

“As part of this work we are evaluating a transport planning program which focuses on driving as safely as possible for as long as possible and links into local alternatives to driving. The information collected in the study will help us understand the mobility needs of older drivers and plan to better serve this group”, said researcher Dr Lisa Keay.

Statistics indicate that older drivers are more vulnerable to injury in a crash than younger drivers.  One in five crash fatalities are older Australians, and for every fatality there are many more serious injuries. However, maintaining mobility has been linked to better quality of life and independence.

“Little is known about the driving patterns of older Australians, and we need comprehensive programs and services to help older people drive safely and remain mobile for longer. There is a need for objective data in this area so we can provide support for safe mobility for older members of the community”, added Dr Keay.

An innovative part of this research is using ‘black box’ devices to accurately measure driving patterns.  A small device in installed into the participants own vehicles.  We can then receive detailed information about distances travelled, routes and times of travel. 

This program of research was launched at The George Institute in November 2011, when Andrew Constance, Minister for Ageing and Kath Brewster, President COTA NSW spoke in support of this work. The investigators are working closely with policy makers and stakeholders, including Transport for NSW, NRMA Motoring and Services and Illawarra Retirement Trust Foundation.  Recruitment commenced in June 2012 results will be available in late 2014.