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Mobility needs of older and disabled people

Prof. Katja A Rösler, professor of automotive engineering at University of Applied Science HRW, Germany, on demographic change and the mobility needs of older and disabled people.

What is your presentation about?

Demographic change makes it necessary to pay special attention to the needs of older people in road traffic. On the one hand, a group of the young at heart is emerging. On the other hand, a group is forming who are seriously compromised by restrictions. The second group also includes physically handicapped younger people. The presentation will discuss the needs of this growing group of people, and the steps that are being taken to address them in the area of vehicle interiors. In addition to comfort, this includes aspects of ergonomics, seat design and the design of displays and controls.

How many drivers would you describe as being ‘seriously compromised’?

Demographic change is expected to result in an increasing number of older people. Furthermore, the individual mobility of older people is playing an increasing role. Although there is a strong imbalance between men and women in the generation of now 80-year-olds with regard to the possession of driving licenses, this will change in the coming years and decades. There will be an increasing number of older women at the wheel of vehicles. The opportunities and chances for physically restricted persons will also grow in the coming years. Therefore, these groups will not continue to be neglected, but special attention must be paid to them.

How can cars better accommodate the needs of this group?

The needs of the future young-at-heart elderly, the elderly with physical disabilities and the physically limited and disabled are manifested on several levels. These people are also interested in innovative technical solutions such as keyless operation or voice control. However, there are also special requirements that must be seen not only as wishes but also as necessary conditions. This concerns, for example, entry aids but also optimized displays for complete perception of the environment.

Are autonomous vehicles the answer? Why or why not?

Of course, autonomous vehicles have the potential to be the solution to Vision Zero. Accidents could almost completely be avoided with autonomous vehicles. The driver is the main weak point in the area of accident safety. The driver has a probability of error in the range of about 1:1,000, whereas conventional technology is in the range of 1:1,000,000. With fallback levels, accidents can be avoided almost completely.

Unfortunately, it will be several decades before full market penetration of autonomous vehicles can be expected. Even then, various technical problems will still have to be solved until a probability of error of 1:1,000,000 can be achieved.

On the other hand, some needs of older people will remain. This certainly concerns entry aids, but also the design of the remaining controls and comfort elements.

What reactions have you had from car manufacturers?

Besides technical features, a personal learning program has proved to be a very important need of the target group. Thus, the people of the target groups wish for extended test drives and extensive explanations of the technology. A personal contact person for any questions arising during operation is also desirable. This does not concern the car manufacturers so much as it is a challenge but also an opportunity for car dealers, for example. Here, car dealers would have to offer special programs for the target group, which might also have to be developed centrally by the car manufacturers. The group of the more affluent elderly in particular would be willing to invest money if they could use modern technology and thus remain mobile.

Don’t miss Katja A Rösler’s presentation at the Future of Automotive Interiors Conference Europe. More information about the conference and its most current line-up can be found here.

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Zukünftige Messe: Automotive Interiors Expo Europe 2021, 8-10 Juni 2021, Halle 4, Messe Stuttgart, Deutschland
Zukünftige Messe: Automotive Interiors Expo Europe 2022, 21-23 Juni 2022, Halle 4, Messe Stuttgart, Deutschland