the population ages, there will be more and more older drivers on the
road. Sukru Karali and colleagues examine what the needs of olders
drivers are and ask whether these needs are being met by current car
population of older people around the world is increasing, particularly
in developed countries. As a result, there is an increase in the number
of older drivers. UK Government figures report that there are more than
15 million people aged over 60 with a driver’s licence. More
interestingly, over a million of these drivers are over 80 and 124 are
aged over 100.
Vehicle design and performance are constantly being
developed, with vehicles becoming smarter and more sophisticated.
Contemporary vehicles are now equipped with many characteristics
formerly restricted to the luxury market. For example, at one time
electric windows and power steering were only available in high
specification cars but are now considered standard. Today, technologies
to assist the user with specific driving tasks, such as intelligent
automated parking systems, are becoming more common.
research has shown that most vehicles are designed to meet the needs of
the majority of the able-bodied male population, but the automotive
industry has not fully addressed the needs and expectations of the whole
population, including people with age-related disabilities.
questionnaire survey was conducted by researchers at the Design School
at Loughborough University to understand the experiences of car drivers
of different ages and to identify some of the key challenges for car
design. This survey was the first phase of a three-year research
project. The project focuses on vehicle ergonomics and inclusive design
in order to explore design solutions to age-related challenges and to
make design recommendations for the automotive industry.
organisations within the UK were consulted and agreement was obtained
for distribution of the questionnaire to the target audience. These were
well known institutes, voluntary action groups, charity and motoring
Interviews were also conducted with 15 drivers aged
65 years and over. Topics selected were based on a literature review
and included musculoskeletal symptoms, driving behaviour, driving
performance, vehicle features and the vehicle seat. In total, 903 people
took part: 53.5% were younger drivers (under 65) and 46.5% were older
drivers (65 years and over). Drivers over 80 years represented 7.1% of
the whole sample. 59% of participants were male and 41% were female.
levels of musculoskeletal symptoms were reported in the lower back,
knees, neck, shoulders and elbows by the whole sample. Significantly
more discomfort was reported by older drivers in the hips, thighs,
buttocks and knees compared to younger drivers. Younger drivers reported
higher levels of musculoskeletal symptoms in the neck, shoulders and
middle back, than older drivers.
In order to understand the
reasons for these symptoms, the annual mileage and weekly driving hours
were compared for both younger and older drivers. Older drivers reported
lower annual mileage and weekly driving hours. It was also revealed
that the level of activity of younger drivers, due to work for example,
was greater than for older drivers. These results may be related to the
reduced symptoms for the older drivers.
were given self-rated statements in this section of the survey. Half of
all respondents reported that other drivers’ lights restricted their
vision when driving at night. This data revealed that distraction caused
by other drivers’ lights is commonly experienced by all ages; no age
differences were found.
With increasing age, some decline in
physical and motor capabilities is well known. Evidence of this decline
was also identified in the research. Older drivers reported more
difficulties than younger drivers with turning their head and body
around during reversing. This result indicates that more data is needed
focusing on dynamic and functional anthropometric measurements relevant
to vehicle design to accommodate specific needs of older drivers, such
as postures for reversing.
Similarly, older drivers reported their
reactions were slower than they used to be, for example in braking in
an emergency situation, compared to younger drivers. This decline,
observed with increasing age, means driving tasks that require physical
flexibility, such as parallel parking, can be increasingly difficult for
drivers aged 65 and over.
males and females reported more difficulties with parallel parking and
driving on a foggy day than younger drivers. This difficulty is also
likely to be related to decline of physical capabilities as identified
in the physical function part of the questionnaire. Self-rated
statements were included in the survey asking respondents whether they
feel distracted using navigation systems.
Compared to younger
drivers, older drivers reported having less distraction when using
navigation systems, although the results were not statistically
significant. The reasons for this result were explored during the
interviews. Older drivers stated that they were more experienced and as
they tend to drive familiar routes, close attention to the navigation
system was not a priority. They also tended to travel shorter distances
and therefore are less likely to use these technologies compared to
younger drivers. The most commonly used entertainment system is the
radio among older drivers.
Adjusting the seat features
reported that they were dissatisfied with adjusting specific seat
features such as the headrest height, headrest distance from the head
and setting the seat belt height. Females reported more difficulty than
Reasons given for this difficulty included reaching,
accessing and operating the controls while seated. When reaching and
pulling the boot lid down to close, older females reported having less
mobility and reduced reach due to them being shorter in stature.
majority of problems identified in this research shows similarities
with findings in literature. Some of these problems have existed for the
past 20 years, namely, difficulty with parking, avoiding driving at
night, and difficulty with turning the head and body around.
Additionally, new gaps have been identified based on adjusting specific
seat features. This finding indicates that there is still a need for
better designed seats and seat features.
This study has provided
data to understand the key issues experienced by drivers of all ages.
Some issues are common for all ages, and some are age-related. Some of
the problems identified in this study are similar to the ones identified
The future direction of this research will focus
in more detail on understanding how design of the vehicle cab impacts on
posture, comfort, health and wellbeing in older drivers.
By Sukru Karali, PhD student researching vehicle ergonomics and older drivers, Diane Gyi, Reader in Health Ergonomics and Design & Neil Mansfield, Professor of Human Factors Engineering, all from Loughborough University.
This article first appeared in Issue 530 of The Ergonomist, August 2014.