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The Takeaway: DriveLAB Taking Technology Cues From Older Drivers

On the Road: New technology aimed at making navigation easier for older drivers is in the works at England's Newcastle University, where researchers have converted an electric car into a mobile laboratory for studying the challenges these drivers face. Tricked out with eye trackers, bio-monitors and other monitoring systems, the DriveLAB car-designed to pinpoint older drivers' habits and stressors-is part of the UK's Research Council's nearly $20 million program to help seniors stay on the road.

See Also: 500,000 People Complete AARP Driver Safety Course >> 

Some of the in-vehicle technologies the DriveLAB team is working on include night vision systems,"intelligent speed adaptations" and "bespoke navigation tools." One tool, nicknamed the "granny nav,"  is a GPS system that gives instructions via visual cues; instead of telling drivers to turn left at X street or in 500 yards, it will tell them to turn at the mailbox or McDonald's. "We all have to accept that as we get older our reactions slow down and this often results in people avoiding any potentially challenging driving conditions and losing confidence in their driving skills," professor and lead researcher Phil Blythe said in a statement.

The result is that people stop driving before they really need to."

Driving is key to the health and well-being of many older adults (particularly those living alone or in rural areas) because it allows them to remain independent and socially connected. Giving up driving leads to greater isolation and inactivity-according to Newcastle University it's one of the key reasons for declines in health and well-being among older people.

What we are doing is to look at ways of keeping people driving safely for longer, which in turn boosts independence and keeps us socially connected," said Blythe.

In the course of developing tools for older drivers, his team had some of their own assumptions about the group challenged.

For example, most of us would expect older drivers always go slower than everyone else," said researcher Amy Guo, "but surprisingly, we found that in 30 mph zones they struggled to keep at a constant speed and so were more likely to break the speed limit and be at risk of getting fined."

Researchers also found that many older drivers felt safe-driving technologies were designed with younger people in mind.

Tuesday Quick Hits:

  • Only about one-third of older Americans have heard of Medicare's annual wellness visit, the nonprofit John A. Hartford Foundation says; the free preventative visit has been offered to Medicare patients since January 2011 as part of the Affordable Care Act.

  • NPR profiles multigenerational households in a new series, "Family Matters," which will continue in installments into June. First up is 58-year-old Natasha Shamone-Gilmore, who lives with her husband, 24-year-old son and 81-year-old father.

Photo: John Lund/Blend Images/Getty Images

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