Vehicle technologies have the potential to make road travel safer for older users. Some of the benefits will be realised without the need for specific action. Others will require the older users, particularly drivers, to adapt to an unfamiliar landscape of controls, displays and interventions. Advanced safety systems can be designed with the needs and capabilities of older users and there is opportunity to simplify their operation to make them more accessible. In the longer term, autonomous, driverless cars may provide an ideal mobility solution for independent elderly road users. However, the introduction of partially autonomous vehicles during the transition to full automation may pose particular challenges for older drivers

Key Facts

The main report has been summarised to present the key facts:

The latest generation of elderly drivers has high expectations for personal mobility and active lifestyles, they will typically have had greater access to private cars and more will have held driving licences for much or all of their adult lives.
Older road users are however a highly vulnerable group and they are over represented in road travel fatality rates because:
  • Ageing effects reducing the ability to drive safely as it brings a number of sensory, psychomotor and cognitive changes that may impact driving performance. (Broughton, J, Transport and Road Research Laboratory, “The Variation of Car Drivers’ Accident Risk With Age”, Research Report 135, Crowthorne, 1988.) (Older Driver Task Force Supporting Safe Driving Into Old Age A National Older Driver Strategy 2018).
  • They have a reduced tolerance to injury. (Department of Scientific Research, “Research on Road Safety”, HMSO, London, 1963, p 10.)
  • The number of older drivers and other road users is growing. In Europe, the number of people aged over 65 is projected to double between 2010 and 2050. In UK those over 85 are likely to reach in excess of 1,000,000 by 2025.(Road Safety Observatory) In order to increase safety for older drivers, many countries have introduced some form of age-related controls for relicensing procedures. However, to date, there is no conclusive evidence that age-related controls are effective at reducing risk for older drivers.
    There is a large number of new technologies (particularly vehicle systems), both already in production or proposed, which have the potential to make road travel safer for older users.
    Mobility is important for sustained independence and well-being (Whelan, Langford, Oxley, Koppel & Charlton 2006; Box, Gandolfi & Mitchell, 2010) and, unsurprisingly, imposed driving cessation may also lead to negative psychological consequences.
    Older Road Users are a priority group and The UK government has proposed a number of actions aimed at improving their safety on the roads. (The Road Safety Statement 2019 A Lifetime of Road Safety)
    However, as older road users become a larger (and often more vocal) part of the population, there may be resistance to actions which restrict their use of private vehicles. Many organisations have made the case that continued mobility (walking, cycling, driving or being driven) carries many social benefits for older people. These benefit not only the elderly people themselves, but also have wider social advantages to younger people and to society as a whole. (World Health Organization, Active ageing: a policy framework, 2002)
    As the proportion of elderly people increases, actions needs to ensure that these benefits can be realised without paying a price in increased road casualties.
    Older drivers have reduced ability to judge and adapt to speed and to read complex driving situations. Vision, reaction times and skills in executing manoeuvres decline with age.
    There is a large number of new technologies (particularly vehicle systems), both already in production or proposed, which have the potential to make road travel safer for older users.
    Some technologies such as emergency braking systems with pedestrian detection capability should improve the safety of elderly pedestrians without the elderly person having to do anything but. Others require the driver to react to a new landscape of warnings and interventions.
    However, there is concern and some evidence that elderly drivers, with declining ability to perform the driving function safely, find the complexity of modern vehicles distracting. (Eby, D.W., Molnar, L.J., Zhang, L. et al. Use, perceptions, and benefits of automotive technologies among aging drivers. Inj. Epidemiol. 3, 28 (2016). AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Use, Learning and Perceptions of In-Vehicle Technologies, and Vehicle Adaptations among Older Drivers: A LongROAD Study, October 2017))
    Nevertheless as drivers age, self-regulation is common. Older drivers can consciously make fewer journeys, avoid more demanding situations such as motorways, driving at night, peak periods, and difficult junctions. (Tsugawa, S., Trends and Issues in Safe Driver Assistance Systems: Driver Acceptance and Assistance For Elderly Drivers, IATSS Research,. Gorzelany, J., Essential New-Car Features To Keep Seniors Driving Longer, Forbes, July 2015.)
    Older consumers are not slow to adopt technologies where their value is clear yet it can be difficult to explain the value of the new technologies. Manufacturers need to ensure that new technologies appeal to older drivers rather than alienate them.

    Read the full report here