Researchers from The University of Queensland have developed an innovative program that prepares older Australians to navigate life without driving.

Associate Professor Jacki Liddle is an occupational therapist and found herself delving into research when she began working with individuals living with dementia who were no longer capable of driving safely.

The decision to stop driving was immensely challenging for them and their families, leaving them feeling isolated and grieving Jacki said. Recognising the need for better understanding and support in these situations took her on a mission over 20 years ago to explore why giving up driving is so difficult and how we can assist those who need to stop driving for any reason.

Through her research, Jackie discovered that ceasing to drive is not only a behavioural or habit change but also an emotional and symbolic shift. Driving becomes deeply ingrained in our daily lives, she said, and when we remove it, we must make multiple adjustments simultaneously.

“Driving is highly valued in society, often symbolising independence, and participation. While we are starting to see the younger generation is shifting away from obtaining licenses early on, for older individuals, driving has defined their lives and can be an important part of their well-being. Therefore, addressing the practical and emotional aspects simultaneously poses significant challenges”, Jacki said.

In general, life transitions are easier when they are voluntary, gradual, and supported, Jacki said. In the case of driving, individuals who make the choice themselves and receive support tend to fare better.

When someone is told they can no longer drive, it can profoundly impact their self-perception, as well as how others perceive them. This can be particularly challenging in sprawling communities where transportation options are not accessible to everyone. It becomes even more difficult when people are expected to find alternative means of transportation without adequate support.”

Jacki said, prioritising safety along with participation, and recognising that driving is a privilege rather than a right, it is crucial to designing communities and transportation systems that cater to the needs of all individuals.

This means creating infrastructure that works for everyone and supporting individuals in learning and successfully utilising these options instead of leaving them to figure it out on their own. Additionally, we must consider the unintended consequences of technology in transportation, as not everyone owns smartphones or feels comfortable using electronic ticketing systems or apps for information.

“It is essential to ensure inclusivity and accessibility for all.”

Public transport waiting times, delays, and cancellations can have a significant impact on people’s lives, creating a chain reaction that results in service reductions. Jacki said in some cases, people end up refraining from using public transport due to limited options or bad experiences, and this can lead to a further decreases in services. She is concerned that future transport planning may heavily rely on big data sets gathered from Go Cards, exclude those who do not use the services.

Helping friends and neighbours who can no long drive.

Jacki says there are several things we can do to assist friends and neighbours who may be preparing to give up their license or who can no longer drive. Firstly, she says it is helpful to develop a range of transport behaviours and become familiar with the various modes of transportation even before the need arises.

“This way, individuals feel ready and comfortable using alternative means rather than relying solely on driving.’

Additionally, Jacki said, reconsidering the social norms surrounding accepting rides can make a significant difference.

“People often feel reluctant to accept lifts when they can’t reciprocate, but offering to buy a cup of coffee, contribute to petrol costs, or exchange different types of favours can help reduce this worry.”

Proactively offering assistance and changing meet-up locations to accessible venues can also be helpful. And raising awareness about the lack of accessible transport and sharing positive experiences can contribute to making transport options more visible and valued in the community.

In the “Car Free Me,” program, individuals who have recently stopped driving set personal goals related to their transportation and lifestyle needs. These goals encompass understanding available options, maintaining valued roles and activities, navigating social interactions, and developing alternative plans to ensure their essential activities continue.

The program offers both group and individual sessions, providing information about safe mobility, grief, and loss, problem-solving, and creating a plan for ongoing engagement.

Advocacy is also a crucial aspect, empowering participants to voice their concerns and work towards improving transportation services. The team engages with retirement villages, organises visits from local members of government to address accessibility issues, and encourages feedback on footpaths and public transport services.

“We emphasize the importance of recognising and preserving existing services that are valuable to the community as new transportation systems and technologies are introduced.”

Navigating life without driving involves addressing complex challenges.

Jacki says advocacy for better transportation infrastructure and inclusive services is vital, as is providing support to individuals who are transitioning from driving to alternative modes of transportation.

It is important for communities to encourage a range of transport behaviours, foster a culture of support and reciprocity, and actively work towards making transportation accessible and convenient for all individuals.

“By acknowledging the impact of driving cessation and promoting alternative options, we can enhance the well-being and quality of life for those who no longer drive, ensuring they remain active and engaged members of their communities.”

ABOUT Care Free Me

CarFreeMe has been designed for registered health practitioners (e.g. occupational therapists) who are monitoring and helping individuals with driving cessation. The coaching program consists of 10 lessons that can be completed online and at your own pace. As information needs to be locally relevant, flexibility has been built in with local content sections that the health professional tailors based on the group’s needs and geographic location.

Cover image, iStock