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by Tim Beissmann

A group of researchers from Newcastle University in the UK is investigating new ways to make old people safer on the road and keep them behind the wheel for longer.

The university’s Intelligent Transport team has created ‘DriveLAB’ – an electric car kitted out with bio-monitors and tracking systems allowing the team to identify the key stresses for older drivers and develop new technologies to support them.

Lead professor Phil Blythe said some of the in-car technologies under consideration included bespoke satellite navigation systems, night vision displays and intelligent vehicle speed systems.

Blythe is hopeful the results of the study, which received £12 million ($18.7 million) funding from Research Council UK’s Digital Economy program, help keep drivers on the road into later life, improving their independence and social connection.

“For many older people, particularly those living alone or in rural areas, driving is essential for maintaining their independence, giving them the freedom to get out and about without having to rely on others,” he said.

“But we all have to accept that as we get older our reactions slow down and this often results in people avoiding any potentially challenging driving conditions and losing confidence in their driving skills. The result is that people stop driving before they really need to.”

Older drivers across the UK and Scotland will be placed in a simulator monitoring their eye movement, speed, reaction, lane position, acceleration, braking and driving efficiency, with researchers aiming to understand their driving habits and fears and look at ways to help overcome them.

Researcher Chris Emmerson said it was important to ensure older drivers did not get left behind as digital technology becomes widespread in new cars.

“One thing that came out of the focus groups was that while the older generation is often keen to try new technologies it’s their lack of experience with, and confidence in, digital technologies which puts them off,” Emmerson said. “Also, they felt most were designed with younger people in mind.”

A sat-nav system that avoids higher-risk situations, including right turns across busy intersections, is among the adaptations the researchers believe could improve the confidence and safety of older drivers.

The Western world’s ageing population ensures the research and technology will become increasingly relevant in the future. Within 30 years, the Australian Bureau of Statistics expects one in five Australians to be over the age of 65 and seven per cent to be over 80.




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