Driven by Safety & Mobility: Developing a Path to Safer Senior Driving Patterns

To keep up with the world’s rapidly aging population, the NAM launched the Healthy Longevity Global Competition, a multi-stage global competition designed to seek out bold, innovative, and breakthrough ideas that challenge the way we think about aging. The Catalyst Award, the first stage of the competition, rewards exciting opportunities that display prospective improvement in the mental, physical, and social well-being of individuals as they age. Kate Hyun is one of NAM’s 46 U.S.-based Catalyst Awardees. We hear from Kate, assistant professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, who speaks to the award-winning project that seeks to develop a tool for older individuals to self-assess their driving to ensure safe mobility in their later years.

Can you share a little bit about yourself and your team? How did you come to work together? What advantages does your interdisciplinary team bring?

I am an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, and my project partner is an associate professor at Villanova University. Both of us are civil engineers specializing in transportation systems. We are alumni of the University of California, Irvine, where we received our PhD degrees many years ago. Even though we are working in the same field of civil engineering and our research overlaps in sensor technology and human behavior, we have different but supplementary experiences. My research is centered around quantitative analysis and data fusion using large-sized sensors and my partner’s expertise is in transportation safety focusing on exploring various engineering and policy solutions. We believe that our different experiences within the same professional domain bring synergistic impacts on this mixed-method study and provide unbiased and comprehensive assessments on driving efficacy among older adults.  

Please provide a brief description of your innovative idea/project and explain why it is particularly innovative, bold, and/or novel?

The overarching goal of our study is (i) to understand the relationships between aging and driving by characterizing the in-depth correlations between older adults’ perceived driving patterns and observed driving performance, and (ii) to develop a supportive tool for older adults to self-evaluate their driving performances and for agencies to assist older adults’ mobility decision making. We will use data-driven mixed-method approaches to characterize how drivers respond to driving assignments required for safe driving. Accurate and clear identification of one’s perceived and actual driving ability coupled with widely used biometrics will capture physical and psychological burdens while driving. We will apply our findings to offer a key basis in developing proper recommendations and guidelines for safe senior driving behavior.

What inspired you to develop your project? Was your original goal improving health for people as they age or did that become apparent later on in the process?

Age is not the only reason to stop driving since everyone’s age-related physical and cognitive challenges differ. We believe that it is critical for older adults to recognize their own physical and cognitive abilities that might hamper safe driving. The innovation of our study is to understand individually-varying driving efficacy to develop a standardized tool that could be adopted by government agencies such as the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or Department of Public Safety (DPS) as well as health institutions to support older adults’ self-control and self-assessment of driving performances. 

How might your innovative idea/project lead to a future breakthrough in the field of healthy longevity?

This project will enhance older adults’ healthy longevity by providing a supportive tool to assist mobility choices. Most older adults drive 7 to 10 years longer than they should in the US. This project aims to gain further understanding of older drivers’ driving performance and to develop a decision-support tool for them to enhance self-awareness and self-control of driving. This approach will ultimately contribute to the well-being and healthy life with improved independent mobility. Moreover, we will offer a new avenue for stakeholders such as transportation engineers, planners, policymakers, and health practitioners to facilitate the transformation of gained knowledge in the actionable strategies for older adults to support older adults to maintain their level of independence and health even after they are unable to drive. 

NAM is Seeking Applicants for its 2022 U.S.-Based Healthy Longevity Catalyst Awards!
Applications will be accepted from January 17, 2022, through February 28, 2022 at 11:59 pm EST. Applicants from all fields, backgrounds, industries, and specialties are encouraged to complete the unique and simple 2-page application to earn $50,000 USD in seed funding for their innovative projects.

How do you see your project advancing in the future?

In the future, we will have more advanced scientific technologies like wearable or onboard sensors in vehicles, and these advancements will allow us to accurately track the micro-level driving performances of each driver. We anticipate that this technological innovation will be able to improve assessing the impact on road safety as well. Our project will unravel the foundational gap between perceived and actual driving performance, and expand the current knowledge associated with older drivers’ driving performance by correlating it to driver’s self-assessed/perceived driving abilities.

What motivated you to apply to the Healthy Longevity Catalyst Awards? What advice would you have to other prospective applicants?

Transportation is an essential part of our daily living, and because of this, individual independence is often recognized as having a means of transportation. This prolongs older adults driving, even when their own driving performance deteriorates so that they could independently participate in social engagement and out-of-home activity.  Despite this being an important issue in transportation safety, not much attention has been given to health practitioners or caregivers who closely support older adults.  Our team applied to the Healthy Longevity Catalyst Awards to share our thoughts on such systematically overlooked social issues. We would like to encourage engineers, especially those who are in civil engineering fields to apply for this award since civil and social problems are much broader and closely related to healthy longevity.  

Has this award changed your perspective on what healthy longevity looks like?

This award solidifies our belief that health longevity is beyond living longer in good health. Independent living is a big part of healthy longevity. We found a large discrepancy between self-assessed and actual driving behavior from older adults, which might be highly correlated to cognitive acuity or desire for independent living. The award changed our perspective on the role of civil engineers and urban planners who must understand older drivers’ driving performance and develop a decision-support tool for them to enhance self-awareness and self-control of driving.

Kate Hyun is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington. Her area of specialty is transportation systems engineering. Her research centers on big data analytics using Intelligent Transportation Systems technologies for various applications including community mobility modeling, traffic monitoring and operation, freight transportation planning, safety, and travel behavior study

Researchers with project proposals can apply here in January 2022 when the Catalyst Award Application opens. To learn more about the NAM’s Catalyst Awardees, check out these stories. For more information about the global Healthy Longevity Global Competition, click here. We appreciate your support in advancing innovative solutions to promote health throughout the human lifespan. Email for questions about the award.

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