One of the most influential elements in a driver's behavior is, as Volvo found, his/her age. In fact, the entire endeavor started as a result of demographic studies conducted in both the US and Europe, which found that the age pattern of the human population is changing, with the elderly living longer, while at the same time keeping active for longer periods of time.
"Understanding the driver's safety needs in the different stages of life is essential for us when designing our cars. Knowing what makes it easier for elderly drivers to handle the challenges that come with age is a very important part of that. Knowledge and research is the key here," Thomas Broberg, Volvo senior safety adviser said in a release.
Volvo's research called for a selection of two groups of subjects, one with drivers aged above 75 and the other with drivers aged in between 35 and 55 years old. They were both made to drive on the same route and at the same speeds, while subject to the same situations: T-crossings, stop signs at two-road intersections, four-way crossings with traffic lights and roundabouts. During the test, the drivers' neck flexibility was measured and a Useful Field Of View test (UFOV).
The results were eloquent: the younger group was found to move the head and eyes rapidly in intersections, looking for potential dangers. The older ones on the other hand, although driving more carefully, had a stiffer neck and narrower field of view.
"During the driving test, our monitoring equipment picked up differences in the area of interest the drivers looked at. While the older drivers looked more at lines and markings on the road in order to position themselves in the traffic, the younger drivers focused more on dynamic objects such as other cars representing a possible threat," Broberg added.
Volvo will use the results of the test as a basis for the development of future passive and active safety technologies, for future vehicles.