According to a report released last Tuesday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, drivers 65 and older will be involved in a quarter of all fatal traffic crashes by 2030. “Seniors are more fragile, so when they get injured, they die,’ said study author Susan Ferguson. “I think a lot of people think that elderly drivers are a menace to road users, and there is nothing in our data that shows that. They are just a menace to themselves because they die more often in crashes.’
So how do we prevent senior drivers from becoming injured in vehicle accidents? We design transportation systems with very specific information about the operators capabilities and limitations in mind. Designing a product or system to best fit the person using it is also known as ergonomics.
A 1997 Federal Highway Administration study found that older drivers have a harder time seeing and understanding road signs than young and middle-age drivers. The agency recommends communities make signs easier to read by using simpler designs, adding fewer details and using a color that contrasts sharply with the background. Research shows that such changes help ALL drivers, not just senior drivers.
While improving the clarity of road signs will help all drivers, some recommendations are specifically geared towards senior drivers. The Insurance Institute report calls for automakers to install less rigid seat belt systems that won’t cause shoulders and ribs to break, and use air bags that inflate with less force.
Research into vehicle ergonomics is not limited to senior drivers. Loughborough University in the United Kingdom is home to the Vehicle Safety Research Group. Some of their ongoing research into humans and their interaction with automobiles include:
- Women and Cars Project: A study into in-car safety and personal security needs of female drivers and passengers.
- Visual demands in the driving task: One project, now completed, investigated visual demands in the driving task and the likely effect of the introduction of in-vehicle systems on those demands and
hence on safety. This research will make a direct contribution to the ISO standard currently under development regarding visual demand measurement methods.
- Navigational requirements of older drivers: This completed project was concerned with the problems and information needs of older drivers with respect to navigating. This study explored the frequency,
causes and implications of navigation problems among older motorists, examined their navigation strategies and identified potential solutions to these problems.
- ADECT – Automotive Designers Ergonomics Clarification Toolset: This project has investigated ways of integrating human factors/ergonomics into the early stages of automotive design. The outcomes are ADECT- Automotive Designers’ Ergonomics Clarification Toolset, a computer based design decision support system, and an ergonomics information database. The researcher has worked with concept engineers and designers in various motor companies to establish what kind of computer based decision support systems would be appropriate for the way they work. The demonstrator ADECT system is now ready for trials with designers.
For more information about these and other projects concerning vehicle ergonomics see the Vehicle Safety Research Group at http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/hu/groups/vsrg/index.html.