The past month has been an interesting one for car drivers of a more senior age, with several news stories which have exposed issues that are not often discussed in public, but which are very relevant to what the future of transportation will look like.
Two separate pieces of academic research were widely reported in the UK. The first, a US government study, showed that older, female drivers are more likely to get the accelerator and the brake pedals confused and cause an accident. According to the study, the parts of the brain that deal with “executive functioning”- performing mental processes such as planning, attention and organising – aren’t as robust in the elderly.
The second was a research project at Newcastle University in the UK, which wants to develop new in-car technologies, such as simpler sat-nav, bio monitors and eye trackers, to keep elderly people driving safely for longer. Strangely, the project was announced about the same time reporters were interviewing a 74 year old for passing her driving test, more than 60 years after she first attempted it.
Although the media coverage about elderly people driving is predictably droll, there is a real challenge in ensuring that the increasing number of older people in society can get around in the future. According to Newcastle University, giving up driving causes elderly people to feel isolated and inactive, resulting in a fall in health and well being. There are issues with the provision of adequate public transportation and social inclusion and also in accepting that people’s reactions slow down and the ability to drive decreases as they get older.
Perhaps the answer does lie in keeping people mobile in their cars for longer through driver assistance technologies like speed control, lane change assistance and vehicle to vehicle communications.