Why older adults are critical for CAV success

18th May 2017

Recently, the General Medical Council updated its guidance to GPs, reinforcing its line that, notwithstanding the general rules of patient confidentiality, GPs have a wider social responsibility to report to the DVLA when they consider a patient unfit to drive. Opticians are covered by this guidance too. Although the numbers and severity of accidents involving older drivers is not alarming, research shows that poor eyesight is disproportionately a factor.


We are all living longer lives, and that, surely, is to be welcomed. But as we get older, eyesight and some cognitive skills can diminish, and more people are living longer with multiple disabilities. Many older drivers recognise this, and 'ration' their driving, choosing to avoid night driving, motorway driving, or driving in the rain. Unfortunately, driving is often the only way to engage with social activities, and social participation is acknowledged to be a key factor in establishing a person's sense of wellbeing. In turn, this is one factor behind the apparent growth of loneliness amongst older people, which surveys regularly show is on the rise.


How can we manage this dilemma, short of a massive investment in extending public transport services? Well, this is where driverless cars can play a part. One of FLOURISH’s critical success objectives is to ensure that older users are at the forefront of designing connected and autonomous vehicles. This means involving older people in the design process – listening to their needs and preferences, and incorporating them into the final product. There are plenty of potential beneficiaries in other age groups, but our success in prolonging life means that the older population is a huge and fast-growing element.


We need to take into account how older people will handle this new technology, how they will respond to the concept, and what special requirements they will have – such as room for grandchildren, or space to bring a wheelchair. We need to understand what they hope to use cars for, and how they will find and programme a driverless car. Some older people will for example want to over-ride a planned journey to incorporate a comfort break; we must be alert to even the most seemingly minor special considerations. We need to remember that a CAV is not the finished article. The end product must be a vehicle that people want to use to help them live their lives in a successful and satisfying manner.


The Internet of Things is spawning a vast array of new, connected technologies, some of which seem to have been invented because they could be, and serve very little useful purpose. The driverless car must not end up like that. It follows that research to identify what service is needed and what will be used is a central part of the FLOURISH project, and to help identify that, we need to anticipate what tomorrow's older citizens will require. The nearest we can get to that is to fully consult and involve today's older citizens. Clever young engineers and technologists might have technical abilities in spades, but the need to work with the preferences of the older service users is critical to success.

Authored by: Mervyn Kohler, Age UK

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