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Driving is associated with better mental health and higher levels of social participation than travelling as a passenger or by public transport – new TILDA research

Dublin, 16 July 2019 - Researchers from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin have highlighted the importance of older adults being able to travel independently whether by driving themselves or taking public transport. This paper, published in Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour shows that driving, being driven by a partner/spouse and taking public transport are associated with better mental health, higher levels of social participation and greater social networks compared to being driven by family, friends or taking taxis, with the greatest benefits observed for drivers. The authors highlight the importance of accessibility to quality transport options and suggest that as the population ages, there is an increasing need for improved transport networks and services that meet the specific needs of older adults, especially in rural areas.

Key findings:

  • The car was the most frequently used mode of transport in 87.8% of adults aged 50 years and over.
  • Most participants drove themselves (72.2%) with 11.7% and 5.9% relying on lifts from family/friends/taxi and spouse/partner respectively.
  • 8.5% of those aged 50 and over used public transport most frequently, however this varied by location (23.3% in Dublin versus 1.9% in rural areas).
  • Driving decreases with increasing age but this is more evident in women (men: 86% in 50-64 year olds to 70% in 75+ years; women: 72% in 50-64 year olds to 30% in 75+ years).
  • Driving, being driven by a spouse/partner or taking public transport was associated with lower depressive symptoms, better quality of life, greater social networks and higher levels of social participation compared to relying on lifts from family/friends or taxis.
  • Adults with reduced levels of driving and particularly, non-drivers or those who have stopped driving, report higher depressive symptoms and loneliness, lower quality of life, fewer social networks and lower social participation compared to current drivers.
  • Men who have stopped driving and men who regularly travel by public transport reported higher levels of loneliness than women.

Dr Orna Donoghue, TILDA Project Manager and lead author on this paper, commented: "Driving allows a level of freedom and independence that is often not available with public transport and therefore it is hugely important for social engagement, mental health and wellbeing. Many people drive less frequently or stop driving as they get older, and this can be a huge upheaval especially if this change is not by choice. Early planning and the availability of suitable alternative means of transport are vital to facilitate this transition from driving to not driving".

Professor Rose Anne Kenny, Principal Investigator of TILDA noted "Ideally, older adults would be supported to drive for as long as it is safe for them to do so and as long as they would like to do so. However, we also need to address the challenge of improved transport networks and availability of local amenities and services that meet the specific needs of older adults and allow them to maintain their independence and social activities. Retaining public transport links and/or identifying alternative means of providing transport is required, and this is especially pertinent given the current challenges to the provision of public transport".

TILDA is funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies, the Department of Health and Irish Life plc.

Link to paper: