Intuitive in-car technologies are more likely to help keep older drivers safe on the road than any system of mass retesting, a new report has concluded.
The review of global research was carried out for the RAC Foundation by Dr Julie Gandolfi of Driving Research Ltd.
Among the technologies the study found could benefit older drivers is in-car telematics, currently more associated with young drivers looking to purchase cheaper insurance.
Telematics involves having a ‘black box’ fitted which senses and records how a vehicle is being driven – data which could highlight to older drivers their strengths and weaknesses behind the wheel.
The study also outlines the potential of driver-assist technologies, such as collision warnings, lane departure alerts, fatigue detection systems and cross-traffic assistance.
However, Dr Gandolfi also urges manufacturers to ensure systems are intuitive and easy to use – and warning signals are easily identifiable and do not create extra confusion or stress.
By contrast, the report points to evidence which suggests it is ‘extremely difficult’ to devise a system of mass retesting which produces meaningful road safety gains.
It uses Japan as an example, where drivers reaching the age of 70 must take part in:
- A lecture
- Aptitude tests involving simulator driving, field of vision checks and night vision capability
- A discussion session
- An on-road driving assessment
The report says “research has failed to find overwhelming support for the effectiveness of these measures in reducing at-fault collisions among older drivers.”
Julie Gandolfi said: “Never before have older drivers had access to so much assistance from vehicle technology.
“The literature suggests that appetite among the older driver population for engagement with vehicle technology does exist – and that with appropriate training and guidance, it can offer significant safety benefits and help extend safe driving into older age.”
Older drivers ‘impossible to define’
Statistics show there are 5.5 million driving licence holders in Britain aged 70 or over – 41% more than the 3.9 million licence holders in the same age group back in 2012.
The RAC Foundation says while most older drivers are very safe, their relative frailty means they are more vulnerable to death and injury when they are involved in a crash – even if they haven’t caused it.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “For all the sensational headlines, most older drivers have an enviable safety record. However, their sheer number means there is increasing attention on how that safety record is maintained.
“One problem is that it is impossible to define the point at which people become an ‘older’ driver because we all age at different rates and in general we are living healthier lives for longer.
“While there is a huge range of conditions that will potentially affect our ability to drive, individually we will suffer them at different times and to different degrees. This explains why it is so hard to devise a meaningful retest to be taken at what will always be an arbitrary age.
“This report has two key messages. One is that technology has a large role to play in keeping people safe and the other is that any information we can get which encourages and helps us make an informed decision about our ability to drive safely is to be welcomed.
“One practical measure we would back is a requirement to have a regular eyesight test, probably to coincide with the ten-year intervals at which people must renew their photocard driving licences and certainly at age 70 when motorists are currently required to self-certify their continued ability to drive.”