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Vehicle Technologies and Older Drivers

18/10/2016

Last month, we held our most recent Reframing Ageing Seminar: Staying Safe on the Road, our guest speaker for the morning was Jamie Mackenzie a Research Fellow from the Centre for Automotive Safety Research (CASR) at the University of Adelaide. The event was very well received by attendees, however inclement weather prevented some people from getting here so we thought we'd offer a summary of what was covered here for everyone who couldn't make it.

About CASR

COTA SA was keen to have CASR to talk on this subject as they're the leaders of the field in this area; the Centre began its life in 1973 as the Road Accident Research Unit and has been at the cutting edge of research in this field since. In fact, former director, Professor Jack McLean, over 40 years ago co-authored the first paper to show the links between car design and pedestrian protection - the paper revealed that pedestrians are run under rather than over by cars.
CASR conducts high quality independent research that enables rational decision making, leading to a reduction in the human and economic losses from road crashes. The main research goals of the Centre are to:

• Understand crashes and why they happen
• Understand injuries and how to prevent them
• Develop and evaluate countermeasures
• Help understand and address current challenges and prepare for the future
• Build road safety expertise
• Understand international experience
• Transfer knowledge to developing countries

For more information about CASR and what they do, visit their website http://casr.adelaide.edu.au/

Older drivers and crash information

The good news is that it was shown during the presentation that older drivers are less likely to crash than any other age group.

Interestingly, while older drivers are less likely to be involved in crashes, crashes involving older drivers have been increasing over time, likely because we have an ageing population so there are simply more older drivers on the road. On a similar note, crash rates have increased particularly in the highest age bracket - again likely because drivers are now keeping their licences for longer than they used to so there are more people within this age bracket driving than ever before. When it comes to crashes amongst older drivers, other key factors are that the crashes are happening at intersections (particularly those without signals) and when manoeuvring. A higher percentage of crashes involving older drivers are single vehicle accidents and relate to loss of control or drift off.

The physical/functional issues which older drivers may experience and which can contribute to vehicle accidents include:

Vision

- Contrast sensitivity
- Visual field

Physical

- Strength
- Flexibility

Cognitive

- Visual attention
- Mental status
- Visuospatial ability
- Memory
- Speed of information processing

Another point worth noting is that, whilst older drivers are involved in fewer crashes, the risk of serious injury or fatality is higher when crashes do happen so anything that can help to avoid or reduce the severity of accidents can only be a good thing.

Vehicle safety technologies

This is where vehicle safety technologies come in, they can help people to drive more safely and for longer. Technologies which may come with newer cars and may be able to be installed on older cars include:

Electronic Stability Control (ESC): acts to help drivers in avoiding crashes by reducing the danger of skidding, or losing control of the vehicle. It's activated when it detects that a driver is losing control, it is then able to apply brakes to individual wheels in order to help bring the car safely back on track.

Autonomous emergency braking (AEB): detects proximity of objects in front of the vehicle and initially delivers a warning to the driver that they're getting too close with the warning escalating as hazards get closer - and if the driver doesn't respond to the warning in time the AEB will kick in and apply the brakes directly to avoid collision.

Blind spot monitoring (BSM): assists drivers to avoid collisions by monitoring spots which are outwith the driver's view in the mirror, displaying visual alerts that there are vehicles present and enabling the driver to act accordingly

Lane departure warning (LDW):uses cameras/sensors to monitor the vehicle's position within its lane and alerts the driver if they're departing the lane (drifting or veering are among the key factors in single vehicle crashes)

Intelligent speed adaptation (ISA):an alert system which uses sensors to read traffic signs and/or GPS technology to detect the correct speed in a given area and to alert drivers if they're going too fast, in some cases the technology will go a step further and actively reduce the speed if the driver fails to do so

Driver fatigue detection: how this particular technology works varies a great deal between vehicles/systems but in general terms it's a system of various technologies such as monitoring steering patterns or lane positioning, or using a camera to watch the drivers face. These work together to assess whether a driver is currently experiencing fatigue and uses visual or audible warnings to alert the driver to take action.

Many of these technologies work in conjunction with others and different manufacturers will design and implement them in their own way so if you're in the market for a new vehicle it's worth finding out which assistive technologies it features and how they work in that vehicle. If you're continuing to use an existing vehicle but want to take advantage of assistive technologies there are products such as Mobileye available which can be fitted and provide a number of these services. Of course, how they work and the extent of what they can do will depend very much on the vehicle.

Driverless Vehicles

The next technological progression from computerised and automated assistive technologies is the introduction of driverless vehicles, Jamie introduced is to the spectrum from driver only driving through to assisted driving (essentially what we've looked at above), partial automation (driver still needs to monitor system at all times), conditional automation (driver must be ready to resume control), high automation (driver not required during current defined use), Full Automation (system can cope with all situations, no driver needed). Testing has already begun in driverless vehicles, they have great potential and are likely to have far reaching ramifications in the future.

Conclusion

What do you think? Do you use assistive technology at the moment, do you hope to use it in the future? Are you interested in seeing what happens with driverless cars?

This has just been a summary of what Jamie covered but we hope it gives you some useful ideas and don't hesitate to email us on cotasa@cotasa.org.au if you have any comments or questions.