Keeping seniors safe on the road for longer

Associate Professor Julie Brown is pioneering a world first study into aged driver safety in the Transurban Road Safety Centre at NeuRA. This study will investigate the use of comfort accessories in cars by older drivers.


Older Australians make up just eight per cent of licensed drivers but account for over 14 per cent of road fatalities. Hospitalisation rates among these older drivers is exceeded only by drivers aged 15–25 years. People aged 65 years and over are up to nine times more likely to be seriously injured in a crash than younger people. The reason most commonly cited for this is the increased frailty associated with ageing leading to a reduced tolerance to crash forces. However, other factors may also impact this risk. In a recent sample review of 380 drivers aged 75 years or older, Associate Professor Brown and her team found while all drivers wore seatbelts, over 25 per cent also used an adaptive comfort accessory such as seat belt padding, seat base cushions, or some form of back support.


“Many of these could negatively impact crash protection and be influencing the disproportional number of older Australians being killed and injured in car crashes,” said Associate Professor Brown.


“Previous research into child safety in cars has shown such accessories have a detrimental effect on protection provided by a restraint in a crash. It is quite likely that many of the accessories we saw being used by older drivers would also have a detrimental effect on their crash protection.”


The research underway in the Transurban Road Safety Centre is collecting data from older Australians, and clinicians involved in their care, to understand why older drivers are using these types of devices in cars, and in what circumstances they might be needed.


No guidelines exist anywhere in the world that detail acceptable designs of comfort and orthopaedic aids to be used in a car,” said Associate Professor Brown.


Crash testing in the Transurban Road Safety Centre will be used to determine the impact different types of comfort devices have on the protection provided to older people in cars involved in crashes. By identifying what types of comfort and orthopaedic aids are safe to use in cars, this work will lead to the first ever set of guidelines for clinicians and older drivers about what and when comfort accessories should be used in cars.

Mobility is key to healthy, independent ageing and the development of these new guidelines will help to keep our aged drivers safer on the roads for longer.

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