Driver fatality rates increase past the age of about 50, according to research conducted by NHSTA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.) To improve safety for its older customers, Ford Motor Company continues to research and develop new methods of occupant safety including crash avoidance, crashworthiness and post-crash assistance.

Jeffrey Pike, senior technical specialist at Ford, describes crash avoidance as any feature or capability that will help to avoid a crash directly or indirectly. Some concept technologies currently under development at Ford include a speed control that automatically slows the vehicle if it is getting too close to the vehicle in front, or a speed control device that warns the driver that his vehicle is rapidly approaching another vehicle.

A night vision display is a technology that could warn the driver during nighttime, rain or other poor visibility conditions by showing the road ahead, indicating if there is an obstacle and its approximate location.

The display could be used as a navigational aid in other instances as well. "In concept the display could also show outside vehicle signage, which prevents the driver from surveying and trying to read signs and in doing so not paying attention to the road," said Pike.

Crashworthiness refers to the safety performance of the vehicle if a crash occurs. One injury reduction concept is a seatbelt and airbag that adapt to characteristics of the driver and the crash. The concept considers seating, height, weight, age of the driver and how fast the vehicle is going. As currently being implemented, the seat belt has limiting force and the air bag inflates at different rates, based on the characteristics above.

Post-crash assistance could include an automatic system that signals for help. "Because older drivers are more susceptible to being disoriented after a crash, a vehicle could feature a 'Where am I?' button," said Pike. "This button could tell the driver where they are and send out an automatic notification for assistance to an outside party."

Immediate notice of an accident to emergency workers can theoretically include information such as the number of vehicle occupants, their seating position, information on safety belt usage and air bag deployment. Such information will aid rescue workers when they arrive on the scene, better preparing them to help save lives.

Additional post-crash concepts could include automatically activating emergency flashers and/or unlocking the doors when a crash occurs, to using the airbag deployment as a threshold for the vehicle's cell phone to automatically sending an "SOS."

Ford's Third Age Suit is a tool currently in use to help engineers and designers understand the physical limitations that sometimes accompany old age. The suit restricts Ford engineers' agility and helps simulate driving capabilities of individuals 30 years older then themselves. Ford engineers are using the Third Age Suit to anticipate the demands of aging baby boomers over the coming decades. The suit helps them to develop features that make driving a Ford car more comfortable for senior drivers.

"Ford's Third Age Suit and all of the extensive research combine to result in cars with features that are beneficial for everyone not just older drivers," said Pike.