Sunday, June 29, 2008

Making roads, cars safer for seniors and others

New ergonomic goals in auto design ...

"Whether suffering from arthritis, weakening eyesight or diminished mobility, Canadians will increasingly have the ability to match their ailments to their cars as the transportation industry prepares for one of the biggest shifts in driving demographics on record.

In the next three years, the oldest Baby Boomers will turn 65. By 2015, for the first time in Canadian history, seniors will outnumber children younger than 15. By 2031, the number of elderly people in Canada will more than double to 9.1 million from 4.3 million, with seniors accounting for roughly one in four drivers.

Ongoing and proposed changes in everything from intersection layouts to vehicle ergonomics and licensing systems are being designed to keep both these greying drivers -- and those with whom they'll share the road-- safer.

"Generally, when you make things safer for older drivers, you make them safer for everybody," says Paul Boase, co-investigator for the Canadian Driving Initiative for Vehicular Safety in the Elderly at Transport Canada.

"Ten years ago, agencies were only thinking in terms of whether or not a driver was fit to be on the road," Boase says. "Now we're seeing a much larger look at the whole transportation process."

Automakers are literally putting their engineers in older people's orthopedic shoes to meet the Boomers' future driving needs. Both Ford and Nissan have their young designers don special ageing suits that simulate mobility and vision limitations through such contraptions as cataract goggles and flexibility-restricting body casts. However, manufacturers say their efforts aren't just for the older set.

"Nissan has no intention of building an elderly car," says Etushiro Watanabe, associate chief designer for the company. "The improved ergonomics benefit drivers of all age groups."

Many of the latest innovations designed to either soothe or prevent irritation of certain health conditions have been documented by the University of Florida's National Older Driver Research Center. In partnership with the American Automobile Association, it recently released a chart that matches drivers' woes with specific cars and their on-board modifications. For example, someone with diminished mobility could benefit from wide-angle mirrors, heated seats with lumbar support or the likes of Nissan's Around View mirror, which uses four wide-angle cameras to show the driver any obstructions during parking and minimize the need for head turning when backing up.

A senior with vision limitations might seek out larger audio and climate controls with contrasting text or infrared night-vision cameras such as the ones seen on luxury cars from Mercedes-Benz and BMW."    (Continued via driving.ca)    [Ergonomics Resources]

Ergonomic Design - Ergonomics

Ergonomic Design

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