As life expectancy continues to rise, the question of road safety for older drivers has become a priority for governments and carmakers. From AI and deep-learning tech to voluntary retirement, here are some of the innovative solutions being explored to ensure older people can drive safely.
Living longer means driving older. This demographic is pushing governments around the world to look for new ways to ensure the safety of their citizens on the road by introducing specific policies targeting people over 65. Compulsory medical assessment, voluntary retirement, financial incentives, as well as tapping into technologies like AI, VR and deep-learning tech.
These are just some of the solutions that are being developed to ensure older people can drive, as long as (but no longer than) they are fit to. They’re also innovative solutions to avoid discriminatory laws or hurting anyone’s dignity, while ensuring the often vital right to mobility.
VR in South Korea
In South Korea, the proportion of people aged 65 and more will hit 20 percent of the total population by 2025, and with it, the number of elderly drivers is expected to surge from 3.33 million in 2019 to 9.88 million in 2030. Several deadly traffic accidents involving senior drivers have recently shaken the country. In addition, government data showed a jump in road accidents caused by drivers aged 65 and older – from 86,304 in 2016 to 114,795 in 2020 – which prompted the need to introduce measures to assess the capacity of older citizens to be behind the wheel.
According to Korea Times, some municipalities, including Seoul, are already using an incentive program providing a monthly allowance of 100,000 won ($83) for transportation for senior drivers who return their licenses voluntarily. Yet, the Korean National Police Agency wants to take it one step further and implement the issuing of conditional licenses for senior drivers from 2025 onwards, which would include limitations such as highway or nighttime driving. To assess driving aptitude, the police are planning on using Virtual Reality tests. Preliminary research on this tool is due to start this March.
In addition to medical and administrative means, the car industry has explored technology as a reliable and adaptable solution to curb traffic accidents caused by senior drivers. The Advanced Driver Assistance Systems is a feature already included in most new vehicles. Based on deep learning technology, it can analyze the direct environment and prevent danger by detecting obstacles, the crossing of lines, drowsiness, etc.
Grandpa’s car 2.0 in Japan
In Japan, which is also aging rapidly, tech was at the forefront of the government’s plan to restrict driving to elderly drivers, as Japanese economic newspaper Nikkei reported. During summer 2019, the idea was to limit older drivers to safety-enhanced vehicles, which are equipped, for instance, with an automatic emergency braking system that would recognize when the driver accidentally steps on the gas pedal instead of the brakes. The envisioned restricted license would be issued on a voluntary basis to drivers aged 75 and older.
in South Korea, the car industry and the government are working hand-in-hand
The country has been actively exploring full self-driving cars to respond to elderly people’s declining capacity to drive. What’s more, a number of innovative ways to make new and existing vehicles safer are among many automakers’ priorities, including Toyota, Honda, Subaru and Nissan. Like in South Korea, the car industry and the government are working hand-in-hand.
Malaysia and stricter renewal rules
Also on the Asian continent, Malaysia is considering addressing the age issue medically and administratively. According to daily Berita Harian, the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) suggested in September 2021 limiting the issuance of driving licenses to senior drivers and shortening their validity period. Their renewal would then depend on the results of a medical examination to check they are mentally and physically still fit to drive. Currently, a driving license can be renewed for up to five years, which is considered too long since it doesn’t take into account some rapid degeneration caused by aging like diminished eyesight and senility.
This very pragmatic approach to ensure a person can be behind the wheel has long been the norm in Australia and New Zealand. In the latter, elderly drivers have to renew their license at 75, 80 and then every two years. They also have to submit a medical certificate and in some cases, pass a 30-minute road safety test. Similar regulations apply in some Australian states, such as in New South Wales, where drivers reaching 75 are required to get annual medical checks. At 85, citizens can ask for a modified license that allows them to drive within their local area.
Free public transport in Germany
Europe is the world’s most aged region. According to the UN, the share of the population aged 60 years or over is projected to rise to nearly 30% by 2030. On the road, the over-65 would represent about a quarter of the drivers. Some countries, like Portugal, the Netherlands and Italy, did not wait for the senior wave to wash over the continent to implement special measures and requirements regarding the driving license and its renewal.
You don’t need a driving license to be mobile
In Germany, the State Ministry of Transport of Baden-Württemberg announced last November that a third of road fatalities were senior citizens and that 68% of all accidents involving seniors driving were primarily caused by them. To make the roads safe again, the minister introduced the creation of an offer for elderly citizens. Since Dec. 1, people aged 65 and over can permanently renounce their driving license and return it to the authorities in exchange for a free annual ticket to use local public transport. “You don’t need a driving license to be mobile,” Winfried Hermann told Der Spiegel magazine.
The right sight in UK
In Great Britain, drivers turning 70 have to renew their license. However, to do so they only need to complete a self-assessment saying they are fit to drive. This very light requirement has recently been questioned by road safety campaigners and by elderly drivers themselves. A recent study led by IAM RoadSmart for the Department for Transport revealed that a wide majority (83.2%) of the respondents agreed that “Senior drivers should have to pass an eyesight test every five years after renewing their driving license.” Over half of them were also in favor of a mandatory medical examination for drivers around 70.“We need to help drivers start to plan for giving up at an earlier stage”, says Carol Hawley, Honorary Research Fellow in Neurorehabilitation at University of Warwick and co-author of the study. “As our findings show, many older drivers would welcome an independent assessment of their ability.” The mandatory eyesight test was also among the key recommendations from the Older Drivers Task Force (Road Safety Foundation) in its latest report