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Will Limited Vehicle Automation that Transfers Control from the Operator to the Vehicle Accommodate Age-related Driving Limitations and Extend Safe Mobility?


Existing research including literature reviews and surveys indicate that older drivers broadly accept in-vehicle technologies that provide safety-related warnings or information but are more resistant to those that take control of the vehicle out of the driver’s hands. The use of such (NHTSA Level 3) technologies also raises difficult questions about where the legal liability lies for crashes and associated fatalities, injuries, and property damage. There are already equipment-related restrictions that are widely accepted by North American licensing jurisdictions (e.g., automatic transmission). Also widely accepted are restrictions that address a driver’s limitations to acquire information needed for safe vehicle operation (e.g., corrective lenses). Thus it may be anticipated not only that emerging devices/technologies that provide warnings or alerts could be accommodated relatively easily within this existing policy framework, but also that technologies that take control of the vehicle could be a logical next step. What benefits must be demonstrated, and what barriers to user/public acceptance must be overcome, before Level 3 technologies could either be 1) imposed as a condition for licensure, or 2) recommended by a Driving Rehabilitation Specialist (DRS) following an individualized driving assessment?


The objective in this research is a better understanding of the safety and mobility consequences, and the level of public acceptance, likely to result if Level 3 connected/automated vehicle (C/AV) technologies are integrated into provisions for restricted licensing and/or the recommendations provided by a DRS to a driver following an individualized (comprehensive) driving assessment.


As an extension of existing practices, integrating Level 3 C/AV technology into provisions for restricted licensing, and/or into DRS recommendations for adapting a vehicle to an individual’s diminished capabilities, could further extend the use of personal (private) vehicles as a safe mobility option for older/medically at-risk drivers. Another benefit of this research could be a better understanding of the minimal cognitive requirements to take over control of the vehicle if the automated actions fail.

Related Research:

Research relating to the effectiveness/consequences of restricted licensing policies is limited, and none that is known to this RNS author specifically addresses C/AV technologies. The extent to which such technologies are addressed in evaluations performed by a DRS is also unknown.


1. Sample the functional (cognitive, psychomotor, visual) status of a large cohort of older drivers in a cooperating state that is willing to provide driving history information for (de-identified) drivers.

2. Determine, through vehicle registration data in the cooperating state, which older drivers among this sample purchased a new/different vehicle within 12 months of functional screening; and, using VIN information, determine what OEM CA/V devices/technologies were present in the newly-registered vehicles.

3. Match two groups of drivers on age, demographics, exposure (self-reported if necessary), and functional status indices, one group having registered a new/different vehicle with known C/AV devices (and having been instructed on their use), and one driving vehicles without such assistive technology (based on current registration information), and compare their (prospective) driving history data for a period of one year or more.

  1. Test for hypothesized effects (benefits) of assistive technologies in terms of crash frequency, crash severity, and time to first incident (survival analysis); and query user perceptions of C/AV strengths and weaknesses. Also test for differences in exposure (self-reported if necessary) after one year of driving for each group.

One or more states considering screening at renewal for drivers exceeding a particular age threshold would be the candidate venue(s) for this research.


As the industry introduces assistive technologies that can take control of the vehicle, either in emergency situations or at the driver’s discretion, and as such devices will inevitably be marketed at least in part as compensating for (age-related) diminished capabilities, an evidence-based determination of their reputed safety benefits is needed.

Sponsoring Committee:ANB60, Safe Mobility of Older Persons
Research Period:24 - 36 months
Research Priority:High
Date Posted:09/13/2015
Date Modified:11/13/2015
Index Terms:Aged drivers, Driver information systems, Automotive computers, Driver support systems, Traffic crashes, Fatalities, Driver performance, Mobility,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Safety and Human Factors
Vehicles and Equipment

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