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DriverLab

Every year across the globe 1.24 million people die in motor vehicle collisions and up to 50 million others suffer from disabling injuries. Vehicle collisions are also the number one cause of accidental death in Canada and cost Canadians $62.7 billion per year. Older adults are over-represented in these statistics. This is likely due to the increased prevalence of age-related medical conditions, including physical, sensory and cognitive decline. That said, as people age, driving helps them to maintain independence; it signifies health, well-being, activity, and freedom. Losing one’s license can be catastrophic. Therefore, it is important to try to support driving in older adults for as long as is safely possible. Given that, by 2024, one quarter of Canada’s driving population will be over 65, now is the time to address this growing concern. 

DriverLab

Advanced simulation technologies have the potential to accurately recreate the sights, sounds and physical motions of real driving. Unlike the current “gold standard” of on-road testing, which occurs during clear daytime conditions, simulation can enable the safe evaluation of driving under challenging conditions when there is a higher risk of collisions (e.g., night time, poor weather). However, existing high-level driving simulators are developed almost exclusively by vehicle manufacturers, aimed at optimizing vehicle design rather than considering the effects of human conditions on driving safety and performance. 

Consequently, at Toronto Rehab we have developed DriverLab, a state-of-the-art driving simulator that is integrated into our existing world class Challenging Environment Assessment Laboratory (CEAL). CEAL features a large 6 degree-of-freedom motion base upon which DriverLab can be mounted. DriverLab will be the only simulator of its kind in Canada and will be comparable to the most sophisticated driving simulators in the world. The coming together of this one-of-a-kind technology within Toronto Rehab, a scientific hub specialized in the integration of clinical, engineering, and industrial sectors, will place Canada as a global leader in driving research. Indeed, the World Health Organization has declared 2011-2020 the Decade of Action for Road Safety, making the launch of this research program particularly timely, visible, and impactful. 

DriverLab contains a full-sized passenger vehicle, mounted on a turntable. The vehicle maintains its original internal components (e.g., steering wheel, gas/brake pedals, seats, dashboards), but also contains customizable interfaces and sophisticated measurement tools, such as an eye-tracking system. The display includes a curved dome surrounding the entire car, high resolution stereoscopic projectors, and calibration hardware and software to create a seamless 360 degree field-of-view immersive experience. High level software allows for the creation of various driving scenarios, including urban, suburban, rural, and freeway environments under various lighting and weather conditions, with the ability to vary pedestrian and vehicle traffic and initiate unexpected obstacles and events. A surround sound system accurately reproduces tire rumble, wind roar, traffic, and engine sounds. One-of-a-kind features include a rain simulator that produces real water droplets of variable intensities on the windshield and a robotic glare simulator that recreates the harsh glare of oncoming headlights at night. Several high performance computers are used to render the virtual scenery, run the simulations, manage and synchronize the behavioural measurement devices, and record data. 

Research Objectives 

The general research objectives of DriverLab will be to develop sensitive methods for driver assessment, more effective methods for driver training, better recommendations for vehicle design, mitigation of drowsy and distraction driving, the effects of prescription and illicit drugs on driving, and a careful evaluation of the interactions between drivers and integrated-vehicle technologies. For each of these objectives we will be evaluating driving performance across a wide range of populations (individuals of different ages, with sensory, cognitive, or physical impairment) and across a wide range of driving scenarios. We will work closely with our established collaborative partners including the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, driver examiners, clinicians (including geriatricians and family physicians), automobile manufacturers, and simulation development companies. Specific research objectives will include, for example: 

  • Develop a reliable test to determine fitness-to-drive for those with mild cognitive impairment and dementia. By 2031, 1.4 million people in Canada will have dementia. In 2009, of those diagnosed with dementia, 28% had a driver’s license. 
  • Assess the effects of particular medications on driving performance. One in five older adults are prescribed a psychotropic medication and almost half of the 25% of Canadians who experience chronic pain take analgesic medication (which can be associated with significant side-effects such as sedation, agitation, and poor memory). 
  • Make recommendations for a customized licensing program that would allow for specific, individually-based driving restrictions (e.g. driving during the day on local roads, but not at night or on the highway). 
  • Investigate the role of cognitive and physical training programs on safe driving outcomes. 

 

Impact 

The outcomes of DriverLab research will help to reduce the emotional, physical, and financial costs of vehicle collisions in Canada by reducing their occurrence. It will support healthy, independent aging by allowing older adults to safely perform the activities of daily living that typically involve vehicular travel including, attending medical appointments, engaging in employment and volunteer opportunities and participating in social events. This research will also help to optimize vehicle design and in-car devices to be safely used across a variety of different populations. Overall, motor vehicle trauma has been referred to as a major, increasing “public health epidemic” for which limited research activities and resources have been focused on resolving. DriverLab will help to fill these gaps by facilitating empirical research that will help to support changes in policy, practice, and design (of vehicle and environment) in profound and tangible ways.