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Car communications systems tailored for elderly drivers have wider spinoffs

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Designing vehicle information and assistance systems along ergonomic principles that suit elderly drivers will increase safety for drivers of all ages, claims a review. Importantly, too, it will help to prevent elderly drivers from becoming marginalised.

The systems fall into two camps. Information systems give guidance, traffic information, and warnings. Assistance systems can automatically correct for indecision or slow reactions to immediate hazards.

Ergonomics research has an important input into the design and evaluation phases of these systems and the iterative process that links the two. Focusing on the ergonomics—acceptability, ease of use, and safety—specifically for older drivers ensures that the systems compensate for deficiencies or waning abilities in perception, reading the road, and movement. But it has payoffs for younger drivers.

Research in road laboratories or out on the road shows how to present screen instructions to reduce the length of glance by elderly drivers to that by younger drivers. Readily legible screen guidance systems and displayed sequences of the road, junction by junction, are easier to interpret by young and older drivers alike than an electronic map with a highlighted route, which older drivers find especially tricky. Analysing drivers’ mental workload to tailor the systems to get the best driving performance is complex, but there are some tools to help with this. Even small features like volume and contrast controls and route finding avoiding motorways make a big difference to elderly drivers.

Ultimately, if ergonomics researchers and car designers and builders get it right these systems might benefit all road users, not just elderly drivers most at risk of accidents.

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