Hi-tech car aid for older drivers

Bruce Robson (82), from Benton tests the DriveLAB The DriveLAB mobile laboratory is tested by 82-year-old Bruce Robson

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A team at Newcastle University is developing new technology aimed at helping older drivers stay on the road.

Many give up because their reaction times have slowed down - but this means they become more isolated and inactive.

One of the Intelligent Transport team's developments is a "Granny-Nav" which identifies the safest route, such as avoiding right turns.

The Age UK charity said "ability not age" should determine how safe someone is on the road.

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 can monitor concentration, stress levels and driving habits via glasses that can track eye movement, and monitors to assess where the key stress points are for older drivers.

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

'Maintaining independence'

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 team looked at developing a bespoke sat-nav because the elderly drivers they spoke to said finding a route they were comfortable with was a major factor in making them feel comfortable driving.

Many avoid turning right because they do not feel confident about judging the speed of oncoming traffic.

Start Quote

Ability, not age, should determine how safe someone is on the road”

End Quote Michelle Mitchell Age UK

It also 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."

'Windscreen displays'

An older driver tries out the simulator

Dr Amy Guo, who is leading the older driver study, said it had produced some surprises.

"For example, most of us would expect older drivers always go slower than everyone else but surprisingly, we found that in 30mph zones they struggled to keep at a constant speed and so were more likely to break the speed limit and be at risk of getting fined.

"We're looking at the benefits of systems which control your speed as a way of preventing that."

The team is also looking at displaying information on the windscreen, rather than the dashboard - so drivers do not feel the need to look away from the road - and systems that can detect if the car has strayed out of its lane.

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

Michelle Mitchell, charity director general of Age UK, said: "Ability, not age, should determine how safe someone is on the road - so any research should look at all drivers and what makes them safe or unsafe.

"When it comes to driving, everyone is responsible, at whatever age, for making sure they are safe on the road.

"The emphasis should be on supporting older people to continue driving safely so that older people retain their ability to get out and about."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    This looks like a start of a softening-up campaign by the BBC, (as preceded the loss of all our occupational pensions).

    The RHA etc have perhaps had their £250k dinner, and deliveries can be made more efficient by getting the OAPs off the road

    I'd expect a proposal to be made, that there should be a presumption that anyone over retirement age is unfit to drive unless they show otherwise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Why do they put minimalist steel sculpture in the middle of roundabouts anyway? Asking for trouble.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    & what does one do with the 85 year old driver who still thinks and drives like he was 20, & did things by numbers, ie car coming around the roundabout count to three and pull in behind. Sat with him one wouldnt have known anything was directly wrong till I took him to the opticians and it turned out he was blind as a bat & he had been told to stop driving 2 years before.Proud & Ingorant is bliss

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Mrs Odicean has reached the age at which any driving aids would be welcome. I was once a motorcyclist and I still have my crash helmet which I now wear whenever I am a passenger with Mrs Odicean. (I lost my license for reasons that I won't go into here). She drives too fast.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    In Morecambe we have a lot of elderly drivers.
    I was trained to drive by London Transport so you could say i'm quite agressive but that also makes me quite an observant driver too.
    I have noticed the community of drivers in Morecambe are happy to accommodate the elderly.
    Even the boy racers are very patient and respectfull.
    If people fall down its a duty of youth to help pick them up!

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    It's older drivers' knees that they should concentrate on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    This article is clear that it is for old people who's reaction time has slowed and who get confused, it uses terms like "many" and "often". It does not say all old people are blind or snails. The name Granny Nav is poorly devised though - I agree it could be of benefit to many who are not old but do have trouble, however; I feel driverless cars might be safer by moderating all drivers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    If you need tests every year from 60 why not make it every 5 years throughout life and get rid of the options for speed merchants to choose to have a 2 hour lecture instead of points on licences. If people can concentrate with music blaring far louder than is good for their ears whiloe using mobile phones ditch all the laws. Older people are not all blind or snails they are very experienced.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    I live on the corner of a very busy main road and most times of the day I have to put up with the screeching brakes, revving engines and deafening music coming from the cars of the boy racers - up to 30 years old. Old people do have their faults but it is a minority who are any danger as most have experience . They have driven on quiet roads throug to motorways and know how to respond.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Older drivers are responsible for a lot of the more serious accidents on the road. . head on colisions etc.

    Mandatory test every 5 years beginning at the age of 60.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    It sounds like a good idea. But what are they going to invent to stop young drivers from going off the road? We hear far more about them losing control, careering through hedges and ending up upside down in fields than we do about older people going off the road.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    @34.Peter Hodge - I live in North Essex, a little over a year ago an elderly driver was told by the police that he should perhaps give up driving as he was unsafe.

    A few days later he went on to mount the pavement and run down and kill a teenage girl on a busy high street.

    Would you like to tell us again how it's the younger generations that need showing how and when to drive?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    34 You obviously didn't read the article properly. Some older people say they give up driving because they feel uncomfortable so someone tries to develop a system that helps them stay driving longer and you feel insulted. What's the problem? You may not need it now n one is forcing you , you may in another 10/15 years then you'll be happy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Sorry, but I feel deeply offended by the idea that as an older person (67) I need an aid to drive my car. I'm not the one driving at 90+ and switching lanes without signaling on motorways. The worst drivers, like the mobile phone users are mostly at the younger end of the age range. So keep your toys, and we'll just get one with showing you youngsters how to drive properly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Well I cant wait for all you with your "smart" comments to get older and then you can see what its like to be all grouped together as a bunch of old gits who cannot be trusted to anything without an aid!

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Forget all this "in 5-10 years" stuff. Get traffic cops back in their cars finding and fining bad or illegal drivers.

    This is the sort of idea that will make driving safer for everyone - and it is available NOW.... or it would be if the government would invest in this country!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    If someones reactions & ability to drive safely for whatever reason isn't up to standard they MUST be taken off the roads. Some elderly drivers are worse than a drunk. How would you feel if some close to you was injured or killed?
    How many accidents are caused by these people pressing the wrong pedal or getting "confused". If they are not safe to turn right they are not safe to be on the road.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Oh dear God. Another load of of Jackson's. We do muck about in this country. I would rather they sorted out the M3 "middle lane owners club" which tends to be 25 -30 year's old drivers. What are we like ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Driving per se could be made safer, by dispelling popular misconceptions.

    For instance, that because a supermarket car park has similar markings to a road, it is a road; that pedestrians must wait at the kerb for a vehicle to deign to stop at pedestrian crossings; that it's OK to pull out of a sidestreet in front of traffic, as long as you're not going far and soon turn off again, etc...

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    I'd rather they did research on how to get people to obey the simple highway code rules, rather than just doing whatever they damn well please. Then geriatric reaction times would be less of an issue.
    And how can a system that gives you a route x times as long avoiding right turns be good for the environment. Just means the roads will be even busier. If you're not safe (any age) get off the road.


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