As people get older, it’s common for aches and pains to crop up, which limit our mobility. Physical issues such as arthritis or muscle weakness, or mental illnesses like dementia or damage to the nervous system can all impact how easily we get around.
Losing mobility can be a big scare for many people. It makes travelling harder, increases your dependency on others, and impacts your overall freedom of movement. This can be especially hard if you are normally an active, independent person.
Driving can be a relief in these circumstances, as it allows you to still get around without aggravating your joints by walking. Nevertheless, chronic pain, repetitive strain injuries, and loss of senses can make even this relatively simple activity difficult.
Today, we’ll be looking through and addressing the challenges many older people face when it comes to driving, and how electric vehicles (EVs) may be the key to solving these problems.
What challenges do older people face when driving?
Learning to drive offers people freedom to travel without constraint. It brings with it a sense of spontaneity that is difficult to achieve with public transport, where you’re confined by a schedule or how far a route goes. It can be comforting to be still able to drive even when it becomes harder to walk, as it means you’re not stuck at home.
Unfortunately, the loss of senses and motor functions can make driving an enormous task for many older people. Issues such as:
visual impairment makes it hard to see obstacles on the road
hearing difficulties mean you are less aware of your surroundings
limb mobility limits how quickly you can turn the wheel, whether you can change gears on a manual car, and how easy it is to operate the pedals
slower reflexes can put you in danger if you’re not able to react quickly enough
It can be very frustrating to no longer be able to do the things you love or to be automatically considered unfit to drive once you reach a certain age. While some people may feel happy to settle down in peace and comfort after a while, there are others who will keep wanting to explore and be active well into their 80s and 90s.
It’s important that everyone has the freedom to do what they love, no matter their age.
How can EVs help older people?
The EV industry can greatly benefit older adults and people with limited mobility. Let’s take a look at how this happens.
Easy driving: EVs are significantly quieter than internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs). Additionally, EVs are almost always automatic cars since they do not require a clutch and gears. This makes for a much smoother, more comfortable driving experience.
Smart technology: Regenerative braking systems in EVs mean that some cars only have one pedal. While this can take a little while to get used to, it ultimately makes for easier acceleration and deceleration, which alleviates stress on leg joints.
Less maintenance: EVs have lower maintenance costs compared to ICEVs as they have fewer moving parts and no need for oil changes. This means they require less frequent maintenance, reducing the burden on people who may find regular vehicle upkeep challenging.
Sensitive controls: Cars such as the Lexus RZ 450e EV model include steering wheels which are far more responsive than conventional ones. This make only turns 150° in either direction while still allowing for a full range of movement from the car. Normal wheels turn 720°, which involves a lot of upper body movement.
Quick customisation: Many EVs have moved away from physical buttons and dials on cars and have all the controls you could need on a central screen. This means you can adjust your seat height, warmth, mirrors, or even steering column all with a tap of your finger.
Diversity: A range of vehicles and models means that there’s something for everyone. Larger cars are useful for longer trips, but mobility scooters and micro-cars which can drive on pavements also promote freedom of movement when it’s not possible to use a car.
What are the potential issues with EVs for older people?
Electric vehicles are still a relatively new technology and come with several troubles, particularly for an older generation who are unfamiliar with them. Let’s take a look at some of the potential issues that older adults may have with EVs and how to overcome them.
One of the primary concerns for older people considering electric mobility is range anxiety. We’re all familiar with that feeling of worry over whether our car will have enough fuel to reach its destination. This is the same issue but concerning battery power rather than fuel consumption.
There is a sense that the battery will fail or run out of power because we are not in direct control of refuelling since we’re charging a battery rather than manually injecting petrol or diesel. While this is certainly an annoyance for anyone irregardless of age, it’s an even greater concern to those with limited mobility who rely heavily on their vehicles.
Research conducted for William Joseph found that “the limited range of battery electric vehicles (BEVs), in particular, is one of the most commonly raised concerns among prospective buyers.”
How do we combat this issue?
Firstly, manufacturers and policymakers need to focus on enhancing EVs’ range and charging infrastructure. By improving battery technology and expanding charging networks, we can start to alleviate feelings of range anxiety.
Secondly, providing more information and educating people on the capabilities and benefits of EV technology will give them a greater understanding of how everything works. This will help conceptualise the experience of driving an EV before they ever have to sit behind the wheel.
Learning about the range of an EV involves:
understanding what causes battery depletion, e.g. use in various weather conditions
how to charge a vehicle properly
finding the correct car for your travel purposes, e.g. someone who lives close to friends and family won’t need an EV with as great of a battery range as someone who lives remotely
Even though EVs are generally much easier to maintain than their ICEV counterparts, there are still many parts of driving which require physical activity.
For example, charging an EV can often require:
lifting heavy charging cables
standing for extended periods of time
This can be challenging for older individuals with mobility issues or joint pain. The same can be said for fuelling ICEVs, which require lifting heavy cables and gripping the nozzle until the car is filled.
How do we combat this issue?
To overcome this barrier, the EV industry should develop user-friendly charging solutions tailored to the needs of older adults and other people with limited mobility. This could include:
wireless or automated charging systems
designing charging stations with ergonomic features and accessibility considerations, including wheelchair ramps
nearby convenience stores where people can sit and rest while the car refuels
So, whether you’re charging your car at home or out in public, it’s important to know that you’re not going to struggle with it.
Unfortunately, EVs aren’t cheap. While they may be less expensive to run in the long term, the initial cost to buy is more expensive than regular ICE cars. This is a cost many senior citizens cannot afford as they may well be retired and living off their pensions or on fixed incomes.
There are also additional costs which come with buying an EV, such as the cost of having a charging port installed at your home. Then, it can be difficult to quantify how much it costs to charge your EV when you need to. Refuelling an ICE car is a lot more straightforward in comparison.
How do we combat this issue?
With how eager governments and policy-makers are to achieve a carbon-zero status in the UK, it is possible to find a range of grants, tax credits, schemes, and subsidies which are designed to reduce the cost of buying an EV.
For example, plug-in grants are available for transport, such as wheelchair-accessible vehicles. These can be sold at a discount of up to 35% as long as the EV costs less than £35,000. This already makes it more affordable for people with limited mobility to purchase an EV.
Lack of information
Digital literacy and technological barriers can present challenges for older adults considering electric mobility. EVs often have advanced features and computerised systems, which can be overwhelming for individuals who are less familiar with modern technology.
Moreover, it can be hard to find the right information about EVs. Our preliminary research found that car dealerships were the main source of information for people wanting to buy an EV, but what they received was frequently incorrect, confusing, or incomplete.
One interviewee called the information around EVs on car sites “deliberately vague” and that they make it into an “emotional experience [to] blow your mind […] but I just want to know what the car does, what it is, and what are the advantages”.
How do we combat this issue?
First and foremost, manufacturers should ensure that their user interfaces (UIs) are as friendly and easy to understand as possible. The controls should be intuitive, not complicated, and comprehensive training should be provided to assist older people in adapting to new technologies. Manuals are all well and good, but face-to-face instruction makes a more lasting impression.
It’s vital that people selling EVs are competent and informative. Since so many people use car dealerships as a source of information, more training should be done to ensure that employees can provide the best help possible. Buying a car can seem like a huge risk if you don’t have all the relevant information, which can be a big source of anxiety.
Driving is a huge part of many people’s lives and not something they want to give up. As long as a person is not a danger to themselves or others on the road, there should be no reason they are not allowed to keep driving.
The uptake of EVs presents an opportunity to reimagine transportation and create an inclusive and sustainable future. By taking the time to address the age-related challenges and concerns that come with driving, we can ensure that older people can fully benefit from the advantages of electric mobility.
No one should be left behind when it comes to EVs. Inclusive design strategies and marketing decisions should go hand in hand with the manufacturing process. By fostering an environment that supports and encourages electric mobility for older adults and people with limited mobility, we can create a transportation landscape that is accessible, comfortable, and environmentally friendly for everyone.