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Evidence Summary

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Key messages from scientific research that's ready to be acted on

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Autonomous vehicles should be regulated in a way which best suits the needs of older adults while minimizing the potential negative effects

Kovacs FS, McLeod S, Curtis C Aged mobility in the era of transportation disruption: Will autonomous vehicles address impediments to the mobility of ageing populations? Travel Behaviour and Society. 2020 Jul;20:122-132.

Review question

  • What factors currently hinder the mobility of older adults?
  • Are autonomous vehicles likely to address these challenges?
  • What policy changes are needed for their implementation?

Background

  • An increase in the proportion of older adults living in rural areas and a decrease in funding for public transportation has made it more difficult for older adults to travel around. This can lead to social isolation, reduced wellbeing and reduced access to goods and services.
  • Over the past few decades, policymakers have been trying to place residential buildings and retail services in areas that can be reached by walking, cycling or public transport. However, the process of altering land use patterns and encouraging changes to travel behaviours can be slow and complicated.
  • Autonomous vehicles, which operate without the direct control of a human driver, is a promising means of improving the mobility of older adults.

How the review was done

  • A detailed search of a number of electronic databases for studies published between 2014 and April 2019 was conducted. Studies that focused on autonomous vehicles and older adults were included in the review. The autonomous vehicles reviewed were defined as having complete vehicle autonomy (Levels 4 and 5 of the Society of Automotive Engineers’ Levels of Driving Automation standard).
  • A total of 67 studies were identified in searches.
  • This review was funded by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.

What the researchers found

  • Older adults were generally reluctant to pay for and use autonomous vehicles. However, there is a lot of variability within this population. It is more helpful to think of individual factors that affect mobility, rather than to think about all older adults as a cohort.
  • Health factors (for example, physiological decline, cognitive decline, or psychological factors such as fear), environmental factors (for example, population density, urban forms and structures, or urban design), economics (for example, reduced income or funding for transport), and individual factors (for example, routine habits, personal preferences, or level of understanding and comfort with using technologies) were the most important factors influencing the mobility of older adults. Although autonomous vehicles can help in each of these areas, the use of such vehicles could also come with negative side effects which would be detrimental in each of these areas.
  • Policymakers should develop scenarios to evaluate possible autonomous vehicles supply and their impacts.
  • Proactive policies to manage mobility are also needed to serve public interests. Such policies could address the design and function of roads and streets; the influence of autonomous vehicles on other transport services; driving regulation, liability, and vehicle rights; as well as land use structures and location choices of autonomous vehicles.

Conclusion

  • The degree to which autonomous vehicles can address mobility needs of older adults and the potential for unintended side effects needs further research.



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