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UK researchers developing technology to help senior drivers

November 5, 2012

Maintaining the ability to drive is one of the best ways for seniors to enjoy the benefits of independent living as they get older. However, whether due to vision loss or changes in reaction time, sometimes staying behind the wheel is not as easy as one hopes. To help ensure that seniors drive safer for longer, a group of researchers in the United Kingdom is working toward developing new technology in an effort to aid elderly motorists, according to The Spokesman-Review.

The effort is led by Phil Blythe, a professor at the school, who has converted an electrical car into a so-called DriveLAB. The vehicle is outfitted with everything from eye trackers to bio-monitors designed to measure changes to the way older drivers act behind the wheel. The hope is that the research team can identify the driving habits of seniors and design technology meant to reduce the impact of dangerous behaviors.

The research, which is part of a larger $20 million program, has already yielded some promising technology. For instance, scientists have been working on a night vision system and a navigation program that relies more on landmarks for directions than street names.

"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," Blythe told the newspaper.

Although it may be some time until Blythe's technology becomes common, there are some steps seniors can take right now to reassess their driving skills and perhaps make changes that could keep them on the road longer.

It's important for seniors to be aware of changes that could impair their ability to drive. For instance, if elderly drivers notice they're regularly going faster or slower than the speed limit, it could indicate changes in reaction time. Trouble with vision or memory lapses can be troubling signs as well.

By 2020, there will be an estimated 40 million licensed drivers over 65 in the United States, yet even if they notice early symptoms of impaired driving, they don't need to stop immediately. Making changes to how one drives can be the best way to stay behind the wheel, including small variations such as limiting driving at night or avoiding heading out on the road in inclement weather.