Report numberRA-MOW-2008-002
TitleFear-based mobility exclusion
SubtitlePart 1 – Literature study on sources of fear resulting in mobility exclusion
AuthorsKarin Van Vlierden
Published byPolicy Research Centre for Mobility and Public Works, track Traffic Safety 2007-2011
Number of pages62
Document languageDutch
Work packageOther: Risk assessment

Mobility exclusion

The ability to move from one place to another is necessary not only to perform daily activities like personal care and maintenance, but also to participate in community and social life. Through mobility one can meet personal, social, employment and recreational needs.


People or households who cannot fully participate in community life – because they literally and metaphorically don’t have access to jobs, services, facilities or social networks needed to do so – suffer from social exclusion.

A lot of different processes can cause social exclusion and contribute to it. Difficult or no access to transport facilities and consequently to mobility is one of the possible factors that cause exclusion. Lack of transport facilities can mean that individuals are cut off employment and education/training opportunities, have limited access to healthy and affordable food, to primary and secondary healthcare and to social services. Homebound people are also cut off friends, family and other social networks.


Not only the possibility to use transport means but also the opportunity to do this independently is very important for the quality of life of adults and children.


There are several ways in which people can become excluded from transport and independent mobility. In this report we look at fear-based exclusion. Fear often determines how public spaces, public transport or other means of transport are used or can be used.


The emotion fear

The most important components of emotions are: the appraisal of a stimulus, the feeling of pleasantness or unpleasantness, somatic/physiological reactions, a degree of action readiness and resulting behaviour. Emotions – complete processes that are directed to a stimulus – are not the same as moods, which have a less precise cause or object. When somebody is easily inclined to a certain emotion, we speak of an emotional trait.


Fear is a natural and normal negative human emotion, caused by imminent danger. The threat which induces fear can be a perceived or an actual threat and can be related to one’s personal well-being or that of loved ones.


Behavioural impulses resulting from fear are withdrawal or defence. Learned fear for a situation or stimulus provides the impetus for avoiding the danger in the future. In this sense it is an important survival mechanism. But fear can also be problematic, in the form of a disorder or phobia. In this case fear interferes significantly with daily functioning.


Important sources of fear are: death and physical injuries, the unknown, animals, criticism and failure, social interaction and medical affairs.


When people are protected against external dangers and/or there’s no threat, aggression or violence by others, we speak of security. This is an objective state resulting from the actual situation people are in. A sense of security – subjective security – can be defined as the inner state of feeling secure. This is an important basic need of all people. Perception of security and insecurity has a cognitive, an affective and a conative aspect.


In the literature there’s a difference between “security” (absence of delinquency, absence of disorder and presence of good enforcement) and “safety” (personal protection against accidents and injuries). Both types are relevant in the mobility and transport domain.


Fear as a source of mobility exclusion

The types of fear resulting in mobility restriction can be categorized as follows: fear of crime, fear after a traffic accident, fear by vulnerable road users, anxiety disorders, lack of confidence and fear by parents concerning their children.


Fear of crime is the emotional response to crime or to symbols that a person associates with crime, against oneself or against others. This fear is felt when being outside the home, probably in an urban area, alone and potentially vulnerable to personal harm. The most mentioned victims of fear of crime are women, elderly, deprived people, ethnical minorities and people who were already the victim of crime. The means of transport that are most affected are public transport and walking. Because of fear of crime people who use these means often take precautions (for instance avoidance of travelling alone, avoidance of certain places/routes/stops). If possible, the feared means of transport are totally avoided. This means staying at home for those who have no alternative.


Just like being the victim of a crime increases the fear for future crimes, being the victim of an accident often results in greater fear of future accidents. Some victims get severe anxiety disorders, which thoroughly disturb their lives and habits. We describe two disorders, namely acute/posttraumatic stress disorder and phobic travel anxiety. These disorders have a higher incidence among women in comparison with men, among passengers versus drivers and among motorcyclists/scooter riders versus car drivers. Posttraumatic stress disorder seems to be increased by a severe personal impact caused by the accident. For both disorders, avoidance and/or serious discomfort during travelling are crucial features, often interfering with daily functioning. Social exclusion can be a result of the changed mobility situation.


Road users – especially vulnerable ones – may avoid certain means of transport because of feelings of unsafety and fear of accidents, even without prior experience of an accident. Unsafe traffic is one of the factors that inhibit cycling and walking. Sometimes car drivers are vulnerable road users in comparison with truck drivers. And motorcyclists are indeed motorized but extremely vulnerable and often the victim of serious accidents. Older people have a specific fear of falling, which inhibits their walking activity and their use of public transport. If avoidance of above-mentioned means of transport results in limitation of activities and even in calling off trips that are really necessary, social exclusion is possible once more.


Besides posttraumatic stress disorder and phobic travel anxiety we describe other anxiety disorders that cause mobility exclusion. Avoidance because of panic attacks and agoraphobia has a large impact on mobility. Agoraphobic fears typically involve characteristic clusters of situations that include being outside the home alone, being in a crowd or standing in a queue, being on a bridge, and travelling in a bus, train or automobile. Avoidance means limitation in trips. A specific kind of travel anxiety is driving fear. It can be based on fear of accidents, but also on panic disorder/agoraphobia, social phobia (fear of looking ridiculous) and fear of failure. It seems that especially women are victims of driving fear.


Lack of confidence in one’s own driving ability is a common cited reason for elderly (men and women) to limit or give up driving. This often reduces their mobility drastically. For some trips they have no alternative means of transport. For some of the elderly public transport isn’t possible because of physical constraints. Even if the physical ability to use it is still there, a lot of older people lack confidence to use this new sort of transport. Anyway the latter also occurs with younger people.


Despite the importance of independent mobility for children, their time being alone on the road decreases. They are not allowed to spend spare time outside the home, to cycle or walk to school or to use public transport independently. Fear often lies at the bottom of this. It can be fear of accidents or fear of crime. Especially young children (primary school age) and girls are victims of it. Neighbourhood variables, parent variables and social pressure concerning accompanying children are also important determinants.


Research on fear and fear-based mobility exclusion

Measurement of fear is limited to the emotional reaction arising from certain situations or stimuli. Concern one has about a problem, personal intolerance and estimates of the risk of victimization aren’t valid measures of fear. Furthermore, the best way to measure fear is asking about situations with a high probability of occurrence in the daily life of interviewees. Questions intended to measure fear should be stated in a nonhypothetical format.


Research on social exclusion resulting from mobility exclusion is broader than measurement of different sorts of fear. Behavioural consequences of fear are important. Avoidance in specific mobility related situations is the central point.


One can use standardized psychiatric diagnostic scales for some anxiety disorders.


To measure fear/feelings of insecurity and its consequences, preference is given to a combination of quantitative and qualitative research.

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The Policy Research Centre for Traffic Safety carries out policy relevant scientific research under the authority of the Flemish Government. The Centre is the result of a

cooperation between Hasselt University, KU Leuven and VITO, the Flemish Institute for Technological Research.


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