Older adults have positive opinions of self-driving shuttles, study finds

By Jill Pease

A new University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions study finds that after given the opportunity to ride in an autonomous vehicle shuttle, older adults expressed trust in the technology and willingness to use AV transportation. The findings suggest that AV technology holds potential as an important tool for helping older adults maintain their independence in the community as they age.

shuttle with doors open and people seated inside
A driverless shuttle used in a recent UF-led study transports riders at The Villages.

“Autonomous ride sharing services may hold safety benefits for older adults if they adopt this rapidly emerging technology,” said the study’s lead investigator Sherrilene Classen, Ph.D., M.P.H., OTR/L, a UF PHHP professor and chair of the department of occupational therapy and director of UF’s Institute for Driving, Activity, Participation, and Technology. “But without an understanding of their trust, safety, comfort and convenience related to AV ride sharing services, we will delay and potentially confound the benefits that lifelong mobility may bring older adults who no longer drive.”

The study is the first of its kind, extending over multiple counties in the state of Florida and looking at real-time, lived experiences of older adults as they engage with autonomous shuttles. The findings are published by the Florida Department of Transportation, which funded the study to support the overall goal of their Safe Mobility for Life Program/Coalition, to reduce the number of crashes and injuries among older adults while helping them maintain a safe connection to the community.

For the study, researchers enrolled 240 older adult participants in the communities of The Villages, Port St. Lucie and Lake Nona. Participants completed a survey on their perceptions of AV technology before a ride in a multi-passenger driverless shuttle provided by research partner Beep Inc., an autonomous mobility company based in Lake Nona. Following their experience with the shuttle, participants completed a post-assessment survey. In addition, researchers conducted focus groups with older adults in the three communities.

The UF team used a survey they developed and validated to measure older adults’ perceptions on acceptance and adoption practices of AV ride sharing services. Survey results demonstrated that following an experience with the AV shuttle, participants reported positive perceptions of the technology, particularly within the areas of intentions to use, trust and safety.

The study findings provide rich data on older adults’ perceptions of AV technology, which can be used by manufacturers to design vehicles with optimal features for older adults’ safety, comfort and convenience. In addition, the findings are valuable for policymakers who may be considering deploying autonomous vehicles as an alternative transportation option in Florida communities, and in the development of educational materials by the Safe Mobility for Life Coalition on AV technology for older adults.

“Although driving is a privilege, mobility is a human right, and as such, we have a moral and ethical responsibility to ensure that alternative mobility options exist for older adults, through the lifespan, to keep them engaged in their communities and participating in society,” Classen said.