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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Transportation Experiences for Suburban Older Adults: Implications for the Loss of the Driver's License for Psychological Well-being, Health and Mobility


The number of elderly adults in the United States is growing, and, by the year 2030, it is estimated that 21 percent of the population will be aged 65 and over. Along with the transformation in age structure, the United States has also become suburbanized. Suburbs generally offer few transportation alternatives to the private automobile, and, if older adults age in place, they may face difficulty accessing resources when they stop driving.

This study utilized three theoretical perspectives - transitional processes, person-environment fit, and stress and coping - to guide the development of a model for examining how loss of the driver's license negatively effects psychological well-being, health, and mobility. Sixty-four drivers and sixteen former drivers were interviewed by telephone or in person. Interviews assessed transportation history, well-being, coping strategies, health background, and demographic information. Participants also were asked to draw cognitive maps of their weekly travels, and they completed two questionnaires concerning life stress and driving self-efficacy. Drivers were placed into two groups based on driving patterns and behaviors: modified drivers, who had made substantial changes in their driving patterns (e.g., not driving at night), and regular drivers, who had not made changes in their driving patterns.

Results indicate that former drivers have significantly lower levels of well-being than do regular drivers, controlling for age, education level, and number of ailments. Supportive housing was associated with higher levels of life satisfaction for modified and regular drivers but lower life satisfaction for former drivers. Former drivers who had no prior transit experience had much lower life satisfaction than did any other group. While these findings are correlational in nature, they suggest that loss of the license may affect well-being and that some environmental and personal resources may moderate this relationship. Additional research should be conducted to inform policymakers and planners about how older adults living in suburbs may be constrained and adversely affected by the loss of access to the private automobile. Meeting the needs of older adults through transportation and telecommunication technology should also be examined.

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