Scott Morrison’s government has introduced a virtual reality driving simulator to check the driving skills of senior Australians and improve road safety.
Called Hector VR, the simulator, developed by aged care provider McLean Care in collaboration with Deakin University’s School of Engineering, aims to create a safe, low-risk environment for drivers aged between 70 and 80. It is now being trialled in the Inverell district of New South Wales.
“This is ground-breaking innovation, to enable senior Australians to live longer, better lives,” Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Ken Wyatt said.
“Hector VR supports people to maintain their proficiency on the road and can be used to test driving skills, to help them decide if they should stay behind the wheel.”
Member for New England Barnaby Joyce added sensors are also installed, which measure the driver’s reactions times and heart rate to “assess their responses to a variety of situations that can arise when driving”.
“In addition to helping older drivers maintain and test their skills, Hector VR is designed to help those with medical conditions, such as dementia and who can no longer drive, to re-live the driving experience,” Joyce said.
The virtual reality simulator includes a variety of road environments and realistic scenarios such as country driving and various levels of traffic. Development of the simulator was funded through the government’s $34 million Dementia and Aged Care Services grant scheme, which is promoting innovation across the country.
Persuading an elderly relative to give up driving can be an emotional and difficult task, particularly for those in rural and regional areas. Drivers in some states of Australia are already required to carry a medical certificate with them in the car, but there are calls for more restrictions, such as annual driving tests, to make it harder for elderly drivers to get on the road.
It comes after Victoria’s assistant commissioner Stephen Leane encouraged general practitioners across the state to report any patient who could potentially be a danger on the road.
Speaking to the Herald Sun in his first interview since securing a new road policing role, Leane said stricter measures need to be put in place to ensure everyone is safe behind the wheel.
According to evidence released earlier this year at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons annual scientific congress, an increasing number of older drivers are involved in road crash incidents across the country.
The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics data from 2007 and 2018, found road fatalities for drivers aged 65 to 74 and 75-plus, have increased 2.3 per cent and 1.2 per cent per annum respectively.
The data also revealed road related hospitalisations from injury for 65- to 74-year-olds and those aged over 75 had increased 9 per cent in comparison to 1.8 per cent for their younger counterparts.