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New research shows comfort aids may put older drivers at risk

Photo: Comfort aids may put older drivers at risk
New research at NeuRA will examine the impact comfort aids have on crash protection of older Australians.

There is growing concern comfort accessories and seat modifications, such as pillows, are contributing to the disproportionate numbers of older Australians killed in motor vehicle accidents.

Data shows Australians aged 75 years and older make up just eight per cent of licensed drivers but account for over 14 per cent of road fatalities.

A recent sample review of 380 drivers aged 75 and over led by research scientist Dr Julie Brown at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) 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 back support.

Generally frailty associated with ageing has been blamed for the over-representation of older people being killed on the roads or sustaining serious injury.
But Dr Brown says these comfort accessories could be negatively impacting crash protection.

Previous research, she says, into child safety in cars has shown such accessories have a detrimental effect on protection provided by a restraint in a crash.

"We know that compressible booster cushions for example are really an unsafe thing for kids to use; sitting on anything that compresses down a lot is a bad thing," Dr Brown told AAP
She said that there is a risk the child will slip underneath the seatbelt.

"So we are concerned that a lot of the comfort accessories may be having a negative impact on the crash protection provided to older people in cars," she said.

To investigate this further, Dr Brown is pioneering research into aged driver safety with the support of a 2017 Ramaciotti Health Investment Grant, awarded on Thursday.

"No guidelines exist anywhere in the world, which detail acceptable designs of comfort and orthopaedic aids to be used in a car," said Dr Brown.

The road safety researchers say with the ageing population the development of guidelines for the use of such driving aids is essential.

By 2050 there will have more people living on the planet over 65 years of age. Dr Brown says maintaining mobility is really important for healthy ageing.

"And safe mobility is really important for healthy ageing."

"The number of older people that are injured is just growing exponentially so we need to do whatever we can do to provide advice to ensure that mobility is as safe as it can be," Dr Brown said.

The Aged Driver research program will be undertaken at the Transurban Road Safety Centre housed at NeuRA in Randwick NSW.

The research will involve a population survey, intensive discussions with medical professionals who advise the use of these driver accessories, and crash testing.

Results are expected to be released mid to late 2018.

"This study will examine the impact these aids have on crash protection and use the evidence to generate guidelines," said Dr Brown.


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