FYI Daily

British University Works on "Granny-Nav" System for Older Drivers

Last updated:

April 23, 2012

Driving is one of those tricky issues for caregivers and their older loved ones, especially in a society that equates cars and roads with freedom and independence.

Older adults still need to get around -- to doctor's appointments, to social and religious events, and to run errands -- and caregivers worry about their safety.

Eventually, most older adults end up giving up their keys and relying on alternative forms of transportation.

But what about just making it safer for older adults to drive?

A team of researchers at Newcastle University in the U.K. are tackling that question. The Intelligent Transport team converted a car into a lab on wheels. By sending older adults out on the road, the researchers are able to monitor drivers' concentration, eye movements, and stress levels to try to figure out how technological innovation could make driving safer.

Lead researcher Amy Guo told the BBC that she and her team have found some interesting results.

"For example, most of us would expect that older drivers always go slower than everyone else but surprisingly, we found that in 30 mph zones they struggled to keep at a constant speed and so were more likely to break the speed limit and be at risk of getting fined," she said.

As a result, Guo and her team are working on systems that control the speed of the car. They've also started working on a "Granny-Nav" system, a GPS system that calculates the safest routes for older drivers, like avoiding turns across traffic, as well as a windshield-mounted display that shows photos of local landmarks to help drivers find their way around unfamiliar places.

Some of these innovations may be optional -- or standard -- in new cars in the next five to ten years, since car manufacturers have already expressed interest in the ideas.