Driving for Change

Over 60,000 people across Australia work as Taxi Drivers. Most drivers are men and the majority are immigrants from non-English speaking countries. Taxi drivers face many risk factors for poor mental health, including long and irregular working hours, low and unstable income, sedentary lifestyle, threats to physical safety and frequent verbal abuse.

Unfortunately, mental health campaigns usually fail to reach men from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and these men often don’t seek help if they have mental health problems. Some are reluctant to talk about mental health due to stigma, some don’t have the confidence to start a conversation about how they are feeling, and some have difficulty recognising their symptoms as a mental health issue.

The Driving for Change project was established in recognition that mobile technologies may be an effective way to provide psychological support for men who work as taxi drivers because

  1. they can be accessed at any time, which is important for drivers who typically work more than 60 hours a week;
  2. they can be accessed for free, which is essential for drivers who are on a low-income; and
  3. they offer anonymity, which may appeal to drivers who feel stigmatised by mental health problems.

The Driving for Change project team has collaborated closely with the taxi industry and conducted a series of studies to find out what type of mental health intervention is right for men working as taxi drivers. We began by conducting a world-first mental health survey of urban taxi drivers which showed that the rate of psychological distress among drivers was five times higher compared to other Australian men, yet, as expected, rates of seeking help from health professionals was low.

This study confirmed our suspicions that there are significant unmet mental health needs in this population. Next, we conducted an ethnographic study to understand how drivers use technology in their daily life. Through a series of focus groups and interviews we discovered that drivers are heavy users of smartphones, in fact they use them frequently throughout their 12 hour shift to pass the time while waiting for the next fare.

We also found that drivers are unlikely to use computers or other technology out of hours. This work indicated that a smartphone app that could be accessed in short windows of opportunity throughout a shift was most likely to fit with the work and lifestyle patterns of drivers.

The next part of our research explored what elements should be in the app. We conducted an experimental study investigating if a single session of either,

  1. puzzle-based video games,
  2. narrative-based video games or
  3. online mindfulness tasks were effective in reducing anxiety.

We found that short-term game play was not effective in reducing anxiety, but mindfulness was.

Drawing on the findings across studies, we developed a mobile app prototype called Driving to Health which is tailored to the unique characteristics of urban taxi drivers. The app is designed to increase taxi drivers’ use of self-help strategies for psychological wellbeing and to encourage help-seeking among drivers with a high psychological distress. The app has been subjected to a series of User Experience testing and undergone substantial modifications.

In 2017 we received additional funding from the Shepherd Foundation to optimise the Driving to Health app. Optimisation is a process in which different elements of an intervention are tested to identify what works and what does not, including methods of recruitment, take up / adherence to the intervention, and potential effectiveness of the intervention.

Key questions in this phase of the research are to test whether the app reaches the target audience, is used by taxi drivers, is acceptable to taxi drivers and is potentially clinically effective in reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety or stress and increasing intentions to seek help.

If the Driving to Health app is effective in improving mental health among taxi drivers it can be rolled out to the more than 60,000 people who work as taxi drivers across Australia and to the growing numbers of people working for other hire car services.

Research Team


Seed Funding 2015

Driving to Health project looks at how apps can help mental health of taxi drivers by Josh Jennings, The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March 2017.

How a mobile app will drive better health for cabbies by Andrew Trounson, Pursuit, 8 February 2017.

The Driving to Health Project by Dr Sandra Davidson, VicTaxi Magazine, 17 January 2017.

Trauma and psychological distress amongst taxi drivers, research poster, designed June 2016.

Presented at the Primary Health Care Research Conference, June 2016.