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Ergonomics and Driving for the Elderly

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently released a report claiming that by the year 2030 one fourth of all fatal highway accidents will involve drivers 65 or over. Because of their fragile constitution seniors are less able to withstand the effects of auto collisions. As a result they are more likely to sustain fatal injuries.

A study undertaken by the Federal Highway Administration in 1997 indicated that seniors tend to have more difficulty seeing and understanding road signs than do younger drivers. The agency made recommendations for simplifying road signs by using less detail and by using colors that would show better background contrast. They believe that road sign improvements would be beneficial to all drivers.

The Insurance Institute also recommended improvements in seatbelt systems so they are less rigid. The result would be less shoulder and rib fractures. In addition, they called for air bags that could be deployed with less force. These improvements would likewise benefit younger drivers who also frequently experience chest injuries as a complication to whiplash injury.

The Vehicle Safety Research Group located at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom has been doing ongoing research on the ergonomics of driving. They have looked at various navigational strategies used by the elderly and have proposed solutions to some of the problems facing elderly drivers. They have also instigated a project called     

Automotive Designers Clarification Toolset (ADECT), which involves the study of ways of integrating the ergonomics of human factors into automotive design. The project has resulted in an ergonomics information database and a computer based decision support system to be used by designers and engineers. 

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