Some older, more experienced drivers benefit from systems that give them traffic information while driving. These systems are known as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). This is the conclusion of research carried out by Mandy Dotzauer in the University Medical Center Groningen. Drivers using ADAS were involved in fewer collisions, crossed junctions more smoothly and generally drove faster than drivers without ADAS. A system that only provides information is not enough for older drivers with Parkinson’s disease; they need a system that can also intervene. Dotzauer has been awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 21 January.
Drivers of 65 years of age and above have a higher risk of being involved in accidents resulting in injury or death. A disproportionately high number of older drivers are involved in accidents at junctions. As this group has considerable experience of driving, a lack of expertise is unlikely to be at the root of the problem. Visual, cognitive and motor impairment due to old age, and the associated disorders, are a more likely cause. Driving assistance can help the elderly to retain their independence and mobility.
As part of her research, Dotzauer asked eighteen experienced drivers of between 65 and 82 years of age to visit the UMCG several times over a period of two months to ‘drive’ a driving simulator; the experimental group had simulators fitted with ADAS, while the control group did not. The system projected green, orange or red bars onto the windscreen to indicate whether a junction was safe to cross. This had a clear impact on their driving performance. Drivers using the ADAS spent less time looking right and left, crossed junctions more smoothly and generally drove faster. They also caused fewer collisions than the drivers without ADAS.
Dotzauer also studied a group of older drivers with Parkinson’s disease. Despite their limitations in the motor and cognitive functions needed to drive safely, 80 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease have a driving license and 60 percent drive on a regular basis. The ADAS influenced the driving performance of this group too: they took less time to cross junctions, and were less likely to stop at a junction. The system also affected the speed at which they drove: the driving speed changed when the system was switched off. This would seem to indicate that they used the information from the system to regulate their speed.
However, Dotzauer thinks that a system that purely provides information is not enough to ensure that people with Parkinson’s disease drive safely. The combination of motor and cognitive limitations caused by their illness makes it difficult for them to drive smoothly and safely, even with assistance. They have trouble stopping an action once they have started, for example, and find it difficult to regulate their speed or ease off the accelerator in time. These drivers need extra assistance to compensate for their motor limitations, such as a system that intervenes automatically if an accident is imminent or prevents the driver from accelerating once the speed limit has been reached. These technological developments would seem to make tailor-made driving assistance a real possibility.
Mandy Dotzauer (Bad Salzungen, Germany, 1982) took Bachelor’s degree programmes in Psychology and Business at Saint Leo University in Gainesville (Fl, USA), and a Master’s programme in Human Factors at the Berlin Institute of Technology (Berlin, Germany). Her research was part of the European Union-funded Marie Curie project ‘Adaptation’, and was carried out in the Research Institute BCN-BRAIN of the UMCG. Her thesis is entitled: ‘Longer-term effects of ADAS use on driving performance of healthy older drivers and drivers diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease’. She currently works as a researcher in the German Aerospace Centre in Braunschweig.
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