Cars of the Future May Keep Us Safe Behind the Wheel at Any Age

BY Saskia de Melker  August 26, 2011 at 10:07 AM EDT

On Thursday’s NewsHour, we featured an excerpt of the film “Old People Driving” as part of our Economist Film Project series. The new documentary looks at the stories of two seniors, still driving as they approach their 100th birthdays, who must balance safety concerns with the desire to maintain their independence.

Filmmaker and journalist Shaleece Haas, who has reported on aging-related issues for several years, said the topic of older drivers, innocuous as it first seemed, kept coming up again and again. She also faced the issue directly as her car-loving grandfather, 96-years-old and using a walker, insisted on staying behind the wheel.

With the Baby Boom generation reaching retirement, the aging population on the road has become a bigger issue than ever before.

The MIT AgeLab, based at MIT’s School of Engineering, is leading the way in researching how to maintain high quality of life as we age and developing new technologies to meet the needs of an aging population. A primary area of innovation is transportation. The AgeLab’s latest creation is the “Aware Car,” a Volvo XC90 outfitted with $1.5 million dollars worth of medical, computer, camera and robotic equipment which will sense and predict a driver’s performance — and even intervene to prevent accidents.

Hari Sreenivasan talked with Dr. Joseph F. Coughlin, Director of the MIT AgeLab and the New England University Transportation Center, about the car of the future. Coughlin said automobile technology will reflect the need of Baby Boomers who will live longer, are more technology savvy, and will demand to stay on the road longer than previous generations.