Older Drivers and Emerging Vehicle Safety Technologies (Part 3)
This article is third in a series of three articles. For the first part, click here. For the second part, click here.
A False Sense of Security?
When these hi-tech vehicles are purchased by an older (or younger!) adult, what training will that person receive in the use of these modern-day advancements? Will the training be unique to the individual's cognitive and sensory abilities? To their vision and hearing? To their flexibility and reaction-times?
Will the new car owner be required to train for x-amount of hours in a simulator? Will they receive an on-road demonstration by the salesperson? Or will the new owner simply be told "Be sure to download the video on how to use your car's new forward collision warning system... with auto brake!"
Are these new technologies going to cause drivers to rely on emerging safety systems so much that they will feel freer to look away from the road, lessening their defensive driving skills? Will they give an older driver (and their adult children?) a false sense of security that will encourage driving during weather or traffic conditions that they would not normally subject themselves to?
Successfully Morphing Older Drivers and New Vehicle Technologies
In defense of older drivers, earlier this month this Missouri State University released a study titled "Study shows seniors navigate assistive technology with ease". Although the study did not specifically refer to driving, the researchers concluded that "Those aged 65 and older are accessing and effectively utilizing technology on a daily basis". That's certainly a good start. It is also gratifying to know that engineers from out most respected and trusted automobile manufacturers are very well aware of this interfacing concern and are working diligently to improve our likelihood of success in the world of new automobile technologies.
In a 2009 report by the National Academy of Engineering, researchers explain "New in-vehicle systems create particular challenges for older drivers. Paradoxically, even though older drivers may find it more difficult to use these devices, they are likely to be the first to encounter them, because innovations are often initially introduced to high-end cars, which are usually brought by more affluent (and usually older) costumers. Thus the more mature driver population is often the first to encounter still immature systems."
It is important to remember, too, that the American Automobile Association (AAA) has informed us that seniors are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of 7-10 years, that's with or without intelligent brake lights.
Managing the Situation
On January 15, 2009, US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger successfully landed Flight 1549 in the frigid, wintery waters of the Hudson River, effectively saving the lives of all 155 passengers and crew members onboard. Since the "Miracle on the Hudson", Captain Sullenberger wrote the New York Times best-seller Highest Duty, which is a memoir of his life and of the events surrounding 1549.
In the book's chapter titled Managing the Situation, Captain Sullenberger writes about the application of emerging technologies in the cockpit. Sullenberger recounts a conversation he once had with Earl Weiner, Ph.D., a former Air Force pilot turned renowned aviation safety expert. Dr. Weiner explained that he was once asked to speak at a conference on "the role of the pilot in the automated cockpit", and offered the following:
"Whether you're flying by hand or using technology to help, you're ultimately flying the airplane with your mind. The question is, How many different levels of technology do you want to place between your brain and the actual control surfaces?"
There appears to be a strong correlation between Dr. Weiner's assessment of cockpit technology and the recent advances in emerging automobile technologies, and if nothing else, his comments are certainly cause for further consideration.
Proceeding With Caution
Tom Brokaw referred to older Americans as "Our Greatest Generation", and he was exactly right. Conceptually, the older drivers this article refers to includes individuals that fought for our country in world wars, they ended racial segregation, strategically maneuvered our country through the Cold War, put Americans on the moon, built the steel industry, and brought us the Golden Age of Television.
Members of the Greatest Generation include such icons as Mickey Rooney, Bob Hope, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ross Perot, Jim Nabors, Barbara Walters and Neil Armstrong, and just as importantly... many of our parents and grandparents. We owe a duty to our older drivers not to leave them behind in the wake of new and advancing technologies. The adaptation of these new advancements need to involve our older drivers from the very early stages of initial concept, to product development, and lastly to successful training, acceptance, implementation and proper interfacing.
These are very exciting times for new vehicle safety technologies. The landscape of in-vehicle technologies is changing daily as new components continue to be introduced. These advances, combined with roadway design improvements, the development of advanced traffic management systems, raised awareness and education, and a better understanding of driver factors will all work together to make our highways and communities safer places to live, work, and recreate for the next generation.
The meshing of new technologies with current driver skills and abilities must be handled with care for both reasons of safety, and for reasons of taking care of those that have spent their lives laying the ground work so that we could enjoy the development of these new safety technologies in the first place. We wouldn't be where we are today without the miraculous achievements of "Our Greatest Generation".
This article is third in a series of three articles.
In addition to being a published author and an expert in older driver safety, Matt Gurwell is also the Founder & CEO of Keeping Us Safe, an international organization that provides practical, real-life solutions to older drivers and their families.