Safety boon for older drivers

When to hand over the car keys is one of the tougher decisions faced by older Australians, with the loss of independence keenly felt by most.

But there is help (almost) at hand to give older drivers precious practice at maintaining their skills and staying on the road, safely.

A collaboration between an aged care provider and Deakin University, using a $726,000 grant from the Dementia and Aged Care Service (DACS) Fund, is aiming to give older Australians the opportunity to stay on the road safely, for longer.

This project is the first of its kind in Australia to incorporate 3D modelling, sensors and simulation training technology, Australian Ageing Agenda (AAA) reports. It involved building a virtual reality driving simulator so that older drivers can practise their driving, and address any driving anxieties off-road.

The first simulator will be housed at McLean Care’s aged care facility in Inverell in regional New South Wales.

McLean Care CEO Sue Thomson says the simulator would give older drivers in the community the opportunity to maintain their independence.

“If we take away older people’s drivers’ licences, we’re taking away an element of their independence, and then they become more reliant on other people,” Ms Thomson told Australian Ageing Agenda.

The loss of independence that accompanies the loss of a driver’s licence is one of the causes of older people being admitted prematurely into aged care, she said.

The simulator, currently at Deakin University in Melbourne, will measure drivers’ reaction times and heart rates to assess their physiological responses to certain aspects of driving.

“The drivers will come to roundabouts and have to give way,” Ms Thomson said. “There will be parking near banks and all the large retail outlets of the town. They will also have to physically reverse, stop, put the blinker on and give way.”

Ms Thomson said she saw potential for the project to expand on an international scale and for the technology to benefit both older drivers and anyone with a licence.

Would a driving simulator benefit someone you know? Do you fear the loss of independence involved in handing over the car keys?

Related articles:
When to hang up the car keys
Dementia and driving
Older drivers a greater risk

Written by Janelle Ward

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