Changing Travel Habits of Older People.

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The Department for Transport has published the findings of the National Travel Survey (2008). Coming after a recent media furore about free travel for older people, it is interesting to see how the travelling habits of older people are changing. With isolation among older people a continuing problem, the importance of mobility to older people cannot be underestimated.

An interesting trend from a demographic perspective is the increase in numbers of older people with a driving license. In addition to people living active lifestyles for longer and driving later in life, the growth in recent years of women drivers accounts for some of the growth in the numbers of older drivers. Whilst the proportion of men (all adults) with driving license is relatively stable, there has been an increase among women, from 57% (1995/97) to 65% in 2008. 

But whilst we have seen the growth in the number of older drivers, it seems that Government continues to procrastinate on their long promised DVLA Medical Licensing Review. This review, which began almost 5 years ago, is due to consider issues around  the safety issues of drivers with medical conditions.  Consultants were employed and produced a yet to be published (and now slightly dated) report.  Alongside a changing demographic profile and different travel habits, we have seen significant advances in medical science and vehicle technology since the last set of medical licensing rules were set.

There is no strong evidence that older drivers are less safe than other groups (and in-fact evidence suggests they are much safer drivers than younger drivers) and it’s hard to understand why the review is taking so long to come to light. 

But transport is of course a much bigger issue than car usage and we shouldn’t forget of course that we still have a quarter of the population without access to a car. Across all adults 51% of households in the lowest income quintile had no car, compared with 11% in the highest income quintile.  The survey paints a positive picture in terms of the new and more generous concessionary fares schemes. With the changes, the take up rate of concessionary fare passes among people aged 60 and over has increased from 52% in 2002 to 63% in 2006 and 73% in 2008. In other words, not only is the scheme more generous than previously, millions more people are benefitting.   Transport and mobility amongst the biggest issues of concerns for older people and free travel has been very popular. When the Social Exclusion Unit asked older people what was key, the answer “transport, transport, transport” came back. The changes in transport habits among older people will raise some fascinating questions for transport policy for older people in the run up to a general election.
David Sinclair

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