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Researchers call for in-vehicle technology to help older drivers

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New research showing that older drivers exhibit greater performance inconsistency than younger drivers has led to calls for the development of in-vehicle aids.

Researchers at Brunel University compared the performance of older and younger drivers in terms of headway (distance from the vehicle in front) and lane position in simulated residential, urban and motorway driving conditions. The findings showed that, for all driving scenarios, older drivers exhibited significantly greater performance inconsistency. The effect was particularly marked in motorway driving.

By studying the cognitive processes involved whilst driving, the team of Brunel researchers also suggest that the consistency of driving performance is affected by age-related differences in attentional and executive control.

As a result they are calling for the development of new in-vehicle technology that may help older drivers to maintain attention and reduce inconsistency in performance and could potentially intervene when specific safety parameters are exceeded in different road situations.

Any new technology must take into consideration the impact on the user and their cognitive function. Professor David Bunce, Professor in Psychology at Brunel, explains: "Although drivers of all ages may benefit from such technology, the cognitive analysis of our older drivers showed that they had to work harder mentally than the younger drivers during the task. It is therefore vital that any technology that is introduced prevents older drivers from becoming overloaded."

Dr Mark Young from Brunel's Human Centred Design Institute adds: "It is not about getting older drivers off the road but rather helping them to drive more safely. Technologies such as adaptive cruise control or lane-keeping assistance are a possibility but we need to ensure that any technology introduced is developed with the user in mind. We need to match the design of these systems specifically to the cognitive abilities of older drivers and also consider how drivers interact with the technology."

The full paper 'Age and inconsistency in driving performance' is now available to view online in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.

Notes to Editors

For more information contact Hannah Murray on 01727 737997 or at hannah@communicationsmanagement.co.uk