Improving Road Safety at Intersections

About this project

Project background

It is an important societal aim to prolong safe driving throughout life. Effective training that counteracts cognitive decline and enhances confidence and performance in older drivers is believed to be beneficial in enabling elderly road users to drive safely for longer. This is important because driving cessation: can be detrimental to independence; is a risk factor for isolation, depression, and mental health; and may even increase mortality.

However, it has been shown that many older drivers give up before they need to in terms of both health and performance. Statistically, older drivers have a reduced risk of accidents compared to young drivers; however, they present a disproportionately high risk of at-fault collisions at intersections. Therefore, this research study aims to utilise ALIVE and VR technology to improve road safety at junctions by understanding the challenges for older drivers and identifying and testing potential mitigating interventions.

Project aims and outcomes

This research project aims to, firstly, understand the neurocognitive mechanisms that underlie deficient driving performance of older drivers at intersections compared to younger drivers. This phase of the work will be based around pilot data previously obtained using electroencephalography (EEG) during simulated driving (Huizeling et al., 2020), but with novel and more flexible, fully immersive VR driving scenarios, which are currently being developed. The second phase will seek to provide a proof-of-concept for a training and assessment instrument, and for older drivers in particular, using virtual reality (VR) driving scenarios in conjunction with Electroencephalography (EEG) recordings.

Project timescales

The project was commissioned in January 2020 and is expected to take place across a two-year period, concluding in January 2022. The project’s timeline, in short, will be 4 months of VR development (phase 1), followed by 12 months of testing and training (phase 2).

Project partners & funding

The RAC Foundation, the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund and Aston University are jointly funding the research to a combined total value of £100,000.

Latest project updates

As of 1 December 2020 Dr. Ulrike Senftleben has been appointed as postdoctoral research fellow to work on the project. The current focus for the work is the setting up of 3D driving scenarios in Unity 3D, using existing and self-generated VR assets.

In addition, crucial pilot findings have also been published in Brain sciences (IF: 3,3) revealing that performance is affected in older drivers when they are required to refocus their attention from dynamic traffic events on the road ahead to reading overhead (motorway) road signs. The findings highlight virtual reality (VR) and Neuro-VR as important methodologies for future psychological and gerontological research.

For more information

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Updated: 09 Dec 2020