Tackling road safety in an ageing population

The Driving Simulator at Aston University
The Driving Simulator at Aston University

30 March 2012

One of the greatest challenges for modern road safety is the changing driving population. Driving is a fundamental part of living in modern times and urban development has led to the dispersal of essential services, facilities and social networks. Consequently people now have to travel more than ever before.

As people live longer, their expectations about driving later in life changes. Whilst the total numbers of drivers on the road has risen, there has also been an increase in the numbers of specific groups of drivers. For example, older people (over 65 years), and women (particularly older women), are much better represented on the roads now than in previous decades. This is just one of the issues being highlighted this year as 2012 has been designated the European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations.

Researchers within the ageing lives cluster at the Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing (ARCHA) at Aston University are examining driving behaviour in drivers across the lifespan with the aims of:

  • Promoting safe driving at all ages
  • Reducing feelings of vulnerability and improving confidence in anxious drivers
  • Improving economic and social engagement, particularly in drivers who are older or anxious
  • Assessing the complex relationships between age, gender and driving behaviour in order to improve independent mobility
  • Examining effects of sleep disorders on aspects of driver fatigue.

Mobility in older age is critical for maintaining independence and social contact and many older drivers rely on their car. Although older drives are no more at risk of crashes than other groups, research has shown that some older drivers restrict their driving unnecessarily or give up driving much too soon. This can lead to isolation, loneliness and even health problems such as depression.

Specific driving projects carried out by researchers at Aston University have included assessing driver behaviour using the ARCHA sponsored Aston University Driving Simulator. More than 60 people drove the simulator through a simulated town with parked cars, pedestrians and even dog walkers.

Dr Carol Holland, from the Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing, explains: “The aim of this project was to find out whether there were any links between driving ability and anxiety and to find out how people altered their driving when confronted by hazards or hazard warnings”.

The team has also recently carried out a study attempting to reduce feelings of vulnerability and safely improve confidence in drivers. Using the ‘DriveSafe’ publication, more than 100 drivers of all ages, were asked to think about driving situations where they felt vulnerable and plan strategies which would reduce their feelings of vulnerability, using the latest in health psychology methods. 

Find out more about the work of the Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing.