By Li-mei Hoang
LONDON (Reuters) - Older drivers may now be able to stay on the road for longer thanks to new technology being developed by scientists that uses pictures of mail boxes or pubs as visual turning cues.
Nicknamed "Granny Nav", the technology is being developed as part of a 12 million pound ($19.34 million) program by the UK's Research Council to help the elderly better navigate while driving.
"For many older people, particularly those living alone or in rural areas, driving is essential for maintaining their independence, giving them the freedom to get out and about without having to rely on others," Professor Phil Blythe who led the research said in a press statement.
"But we all have to accept that as we get older our reactions slow down and this often results in people avoiding any potentially challenging driving conditions and losing confidence in their driving skills.
"The result is that people stop driving before they really need to.
Blythe said his research team has been looking at ways to keep people driving safely for longer to help boost independence amongst the elderly and keep them socially connected.
Giving up driving is one of the key reasons for a fall in health and well-being among older people, leading to them becoming more isolated and inactive, according to Newcastle University.
To figure out the best ways to help keep older people on the road, the Intelligent Transport team at Newcastle University converted an electric car into a mobile laboratory called DriveLAB.
The car was decked out with tracking systems, eye-motion detectors and bio-monitors to help researchers understand the challenges faced by older drivers as well as night vision systems and intelligent speed technology.
Edmund King, AA president said: "The car is a lifeline for many older people as it helps keep them mobile, independent and connected to friends and family.
"The pioneering work of DriveLAB will help with technological solutions to ensure that older drivers stay safer behind the wheel."
The research will be presented at an Aging, Mobility and Quality of Life conference in Michigan in June.
($1 = 0.6205 British pounds)
(Reporting by Li-mei Hoang, editing by Paul Casciato)