University team develops technology to keep older drivers on the road

12.00 | 24 April 2012 | | 4 comments

A team at Newcastle University is developing new technology to help older drivers stay on the road for longer (BBC News).

The work is part of a £12m ‘social inclusion through the digital economy (SiDE)’ project, led by Newcastle University, which aims to see how technology can improve peoples’ lives.

The researchers have converted an electric car into a mobile laboratory. The ‘DriveLAB’ has navigation tools, night vision systems and intelligent speed adaptations. It monitors concentration, stress levels and driving habits via glasses that can track eye movement to assess where the key stress points are for older drivers.

The car also has night vision systems to help driving in the dark.

The BBC News report says that around 20 drivers in their 80s from across the north-east of England and Scotland have so far taken DriveLAB out on the road.

The project team has also developed ‘Granny-Nav’, a bespoke sat-nav for elderly drivers who say that finding a route is a major factor in making them feel comfortable driving. For example, many avoid turning right because they do not feel confident about judging the speed of oncoming traffic.

Granny-Nav uses pictures of local landmarks, such as a post box or public house, as turning cues for when people are driving in unfamiliar places.

Phil Blythe, professor of intelligent transport systems at Newcastle University, said: “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.

“And people base their whole lives around driving a car, having mobility. 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.

“What we are doing is to look at ways of keeping people driving safely for longer, which in turn boosts independence and keeps us socially connected.”

Car manufactures have expressed interest in the work, and professor Blythe said some of the technologies could be seen ‘soon’, with others within ‘five to 10 years’.

Click here to read the full BBC News report.


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    Stats 19 does apportion fault and careful analysis ensures that we differentiate between older drivers who are at fault in a collision and those who are simply involved. For those drivers who are “at fault” we look to identify the causes – also information available from stats 19 e.g. didn’t judge the speed of approach of another vehicle correctly; lost control; didn’t see approaching vehicle. This information is then used to direct our education, training and publicity and, most importantly, to older drivers themselves through drop in events and our network of specially trained driving instructors, who provide refresher drives for older drivers to pick up on exactly these issues. This new use of technology is a great idea and will help many older drivers who find right turns difficult – stats 19 data supports this finding. Many older drivers already use satnav. It won’t suit everyone but it will be useful for a growing number.

    Honor Byford, North Yorkshire
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    Although reaction times may deteriorate with age, anticipation of a potentially dangerous situation is far more important, since it can avoid an incident occurring altogether. This is far better than reacting a few tenths of a second quicker to a situation that could have been foreseen. Anticipation comes with experience, which is where older drivers often outperform younger but less experienced ones.

    Malcolm Heymer, Dereham, Norfolk
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    I totally agree that this type of technology has its place in dealing with this issue. However my personal experiences with elderly relations who exhibit the driving problems desribed are [a] they are often totally against adopting any from of technology and [b] when they do, they sometimes fixate on them (e.g. watching a satnav or playing with phone handsfree kits) to the point where they fail to concentrete on the road ahead leading to missing information (signs, lane markings and awareness of vehicles close to them).

    Andy, Medway
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    I welcome this initiative in general terms – though ISA is a dead duck based on spurious reasoning and data.

    My main reason for commenting here is however that when reviewing recent reports that some theorists are calling for more restrictions on older drivers, partly because of their supposedly higher crash rate, I began to suspect – though I have not yet had time to check thoroughly – that this may be yet another example of incompetent analysis of incomplete data.

    The basic problem seems to be that Stats19 accident and casualty data does not in general determine blame, only involvement.

    It is well established that older people, being more frail suffer worse injuries – including dying instead of being injured – than younger people, in otherwise identical crashes.

    It follows that any group of older drivers who are no more dangerous than another group of younger drivers, and who drive similar distances each year, will nevertheless show up as having higher and more serious casualties than younger drivers.

    Not because they are more dangerous but because they are more vulnerable.

    Idris Francis
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