03 Feb VR to assess whether seniors remain alert on the road
In South Korea, virtual reality headsets are being experimented with to assess whether elderly people are still able to drive.
Until now, virtual reality has often been seen through the prism of entertainment. Since the mid-2010s, there has been a lot of talk about video games that are supposed to be more immersive thanks to these headsets that give the impression of being in the game: wherever you point your head, the game adjusts the display and shows the environment that is supposed to be around.
But virtual reality also has a lesser-known medical side. In 2016, a patient was operated in Angers for a brain tumor. The patient wore a virtual reality headset, allowing the neurosurgeon to map the cortex more finely before the operation. Developments in neurological disorders, rehabilitation or psychological support have also been noted.
It is precisely in this context that virtual reality is back in the news. The Yonhap News Agency reports in its November 29 edition that the South Korean National Police is supporting a program that involves testing the elderly to see if they are still fit to drive or if their health is too degraded to continue driving.
The Korean National Police Agency’s (KNPA) thinking is fueled by two observations. First, traffic accidents involving drivers over 65 years of age are statistically more numerous than those involving people half their age. Secondly, the age pyramid in Korea is changing rapidly and there are, in fact, more and more senior citizens on the road.
The Next Web, reporting on the Yonhap News story, says that the KNPA-supported device is entering a three-year trial phase to evaluate the role virtual reality can play in assessing the cognitive and driving abilities of the elderly. There is research on the topic, such as this publication.
At the end of this three-year sequence, rules could be implemented in Korean law in 2025, to require a medical check-up with examinations mobilizing virtual reality. This check-up is understandable: age dulls reflexes, eyesight diminishes, hearing is less acute, fatigue can take hold more quickly, and so on.
The idea that has emerged in South Korea and is about to take a step forward could eventually be emulated abroad. The ageing of the population raises identical questions everywhere, including in France: for example, members of parliament have sometimes suggested a medical check-up after the age of 70. A bill to this effect was tabled in 2019.
These reflections have not yet led to anything concrete. However, polls show that the population generally approves of the need to periodically check the fitness of seniors who hold a driver’s license. However, such a measure may be unpopular with the public, which could make it clear at the ballot box.
Medical examinations may be required in case of special conditions, according to the services of the Ministry of the Interior. This concerns both the license examination, but also for motorists who have already received the sesame. This may be an illness considered incompatible or for very specific cases. These accommodations are not specifically related to age.
However, there is another reality, not a virtual one this time: when truly autonomous driving emerges, this problem should disappear by itself.