February 15, 2002

University of Michigan researchers say many vehicle body styles are hard on senior citizens

Warrendale, Pennsylvania – A study by the University of Michigan, Dearborn researchers concludes many vehicles are not designed with senior citizens in mind. The findings, along with improvement suggestions, will be presented during the SAE 2002 World Congress, March 4 – 7, in Detroit, Michigan.

Thirty-six drivers (males and females, ages 25 to 89) participated in the study to measure the effect of vehicle body style on vehicle entry and exit performance, and to determine the preferred body style of older and younger drivers. Three different body styles were used — a large sedan, a minivan and a full-size pick-up truck.

“We found that the minivan was rated as the easiest vehicle to get in and out of, while the pick-up truck was the most difficult,” says Faith M. Bodenmiller, Engineering Graduate Student, University of Michigan, Dearborn.

“During the field study, we witnessed the major difficulties that older drivers have getting in and out of vehicles. We hope our research will prompt automakers to recognize the special ergonomic needs of senior citizens.”

Recommendations for improving vehicle design to aid mature drivers include:

  • Equipping vehicles with automatic closing doors or at least door handle extensions to ease the closing of heavy side doors;

  • Adding more interior handles and running boards to higher vehicles;
  • Exploring swivel-type seats, which allow the driver to turn his or her seat (and body) to face the door opening;
  • Investigating the benefits of adjustable brake and accelerator pedals; and
  • Adding adjustable automatic steps that fold out to aid entry or exit.

The study cites that, according to the AARP, 90 percent of trips made by people over the age of 65 are done so using a private vehicle. In addition, the number of senior citizens driving vehicles has hit an all-time high and will continue to increase. The over-65 population in the United States will grow by 60 percent over the next 20 years, and by the year 2030, more than 20% of all drivers will be over the age of 65.

“Effect of Vehicle Body Style on Vehicle Entry/Exit Performance and Preferences of Older and Younger Drivers” will be presented on March 4, 2002 at 3 p.m., Room D3-28, as part of the Human Factors in Driving and Automotive Telematics Session (Session Code B10).

For more details, including registration and special events, visit the SAE 2002 World Congress web site at www.sae.org/congress.

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