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Andrew Brown-Allan's blog: Mental health: CAVs & MaaS solutions can't come soon enough

Date: 15 May 2017

Marking Mental Health Awareness Week 2017, research published by Mercedes-Benz Vans UK revealed that nearly a fifth of the 2,000 van drivers surveyed feel they have poor or very poor mental health.

Road congestion is blamed by 17% of drivers, with over half citing demanding workloads and schedules as significant factors. With the majority working alone behind the wheel, automotive support charity, Ben, points to isolation as another likely contributor. Sadly, though, only a third of UK van drivers have spoken to someone about their mental health worries, the rest suffering in silence.

Away from jobs wholly focussed around driving, findings from Firstcare and the CEBR place stress and anxiety as the second most prevalent reasons behind absenteeism, which currently costs the UK circa £18 billion annually in lost productivity.

Such statistics merely refer to people already in work, however, and after digesting material like the 'Mental Health and Transport Summit Report' from Anxiety UK and the MHAG in 2016 it's sadly clear that fear of driving or taking public transport prevents thousands of talented potential employees from deservedly landing roles that would ultimately boost their esteem and wellbeing whilst benefitting employers. Even Alastair Campbell experienced intense dread of public transport during his high-profile political career.

Enhanced staff training and improved passenger assistance from Stagecoach et al, and especially First Bus' 'Better Journey' cards, are excellent steps in helping talented would-be employees dissolve mental health's barrier into work - but I see connected autonomous vehicles and MaaS solutions as the future's real game-changers.

Initially prohibitive costs will admittedly place CAVs out of the reach of private motorists for decades, not to mention legislation, safety concerns and infrastructure, but driverless trials from pioneers such as Oxbotica's 'Driven' consortium will hopefully accelerate progress and eventually liberate housebound sufferers of OCD, agoraphobia, dysphoria, dyspraxia, autism, epilepsy and other challenges.

While driverless vehicles will obviously have a detrimental impact on the likes of couriers, taxis and chauffeurs, the autonomous technology being fettled by Uber, Google and others will have an enormously positive impact on personal mobility. Prospective employees previously prevented from applying for roles because of the fear of driving or using public transport will conceivably be able to use Mobility as a Service apps to summon single-occupant driverless pods to transport them to their workplaces. A healthier work-life balance will also be more attainable through the ability to work, read, practice mindfulness or even sleep on journeys to and from work, rather than getting stressed or anxious in gridlocked congestion.

In the meantime, until CAVs become commonplace on societies' roads, it's important for everyone from public transport operators to employers to become increasingly sympathetic regarding mental health, a largely hidden, silent epidemic. While routine benefits many people, flexible working could better suit, for example, employees who suffer panic attacks or who may work more productively at home on occasion. With mental health often in the news these days, lasting changes will surely result.

Andrew Brown-Allan is managing director of Trak Labs



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