1990-02-01

New Technology Considerations for Mature Drivers 900192

It is doubtful whether a vehicle designed specifically as an “old person's car” could ever achieve success inasmuch as the culture in which we exist assigns only the most negative of attributes to such characterizations. Nevertheless, there are numerous vehicle technologies that are emerging or under longer range development that may be of special benefit to the elderly. This paper will discuss these technologies, and explain how they might help offset some of the declines in vision and cognition that mature drivers experience through aging.
Concern over the mature driver and his or her capabilities to drive safely have received increased emphasis within the private and public sectors over the past several years. While such a concern is appropriate, it would not exist today if automobile manufacturers over the years had failed to develop the various power assist technologies that have enabled adults to continue driving well into advanced age. Without the help of such equipment as automatic transmissions, power steering and brakes, and electronic seat adjusters and window lifts, people over 65, especially women, probably could not cope with the rigors of driving that was typical of passenger cars built around World War I. In that era, only the most vigorous adults in retirement age had the strength and agility to maneuver a motor car.
Today, new technologies are being demonstrated or are in various stages of development that may further enhance the driving capabilities of older adults, especially their night driving. This they tend to reduce after retirement years because of an increasing sensitivity to glare, and the fact that the aging eye takes in less light which makes it more difficult to drive within a darkened road environment.
I will first discuss those technologies that can be considered “emerging” because they are beginning to make their appearance on some cars and have the potential to offset visual and physical strength changes in older drivers. I will then discuss longer range technologies, most of which offer the possibility of enhancing or supplementing aging vision, and, finally, touch upon work taking place in occupant protection that ultimately will be of benefit to older vehicle occupants. My choice of technologies is based upon my own experience as a person deeply immersed in older driver issues. Also, at 60, I am of an age that allows me to experience the declines about which I speak. The latter has been a very compelling reason for me to search out the possibilities that new technologies may hold toward offsetting physical changes that result from the aging process.

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