How digital roads will help keep an ageing population moving

Now in their 70s, retired couple Harjeet and Daljit enjoy travelling from their home in the midlands to visit their growing brood of grandchildren across the UK and beyond. Although in recent years they have embraced different modes of transport, including buying electric bikes so they can cycle to their local shops , they  still rely on driving for longer journeys.

The couple have smartphones, which they use to keep up with messages and photos from their grandchildren. With the grandkids’ help, they also use their smartphones to plan journeys and have even tried using them to pay for things along the way. When they take Harjeet’s mother, who is in her 90s, for a day out they use a phone app to check ahead to see which service stations have the accessible facilities they need.

Harjeet and Daljit have also signed up to the journey registration service. Daljit was a scout leader for many years and he describes the service as a digital version of the paper route cards that they used to use on hikes. The scouts completed a route card with details of where they were walking and when they were due back, left  a copy behind with someone so that if there was an incident and they couldn’t call for help, rescuers would know where to look for them. 

The journey registration service works in the same way. The system knows Harjeet and Daljit’s planned journey and their current location. If they fail to arrive within the expected time frame, the contact centre will try to locate them or call for help if they cannot get a response. Harjeet jokes that it keeps them on their toes, but she’s grateful for the peace of mind it gives their children.

Harjeet and Daljit also like to travel “off peak” when they can. Because they are retired, they have the time and they enjoy getting away from major routes and taking in the countryside along the way. They plan accordingly, but also  find it helpful to get live information on traffic levels, roadworks, weather, incidents and diversions through their car’s satnav. Daljit feels it’s a lot more convenient than tuning into the traffic and travel news on local radio, as they did in the past. 

The couple like their car’s satnav and they’re comforted by the vehicle’s safety features, such as its Adaptive Cruise Control and emergency call button. However, they still find it reassuring to have a physical backup. There’s always a paper road atlas in the car and they like knowing that, should they have a problem on the road, they can speak to someone to get help – either directly through the emergency call button in their car, on their mobile phones or by using an SOS phone in a roadside refuge. Daljit even recommended the app to his sister, who is deaf, because it enables drivers to use sign language to call for help.

While Harjeet and Daljit still consider themselves fit and active, they have developed some medical issues. To put their children’s minds at rest, they have used their journey app to register their conditions, medication and emergency contact details. If they are involved in an incident, this information will be fed automatically to the control room and they’ll be prioritised for assistance.

With all the digital systems and services working behind the scenes to help them, Harjeet and Daljit don’t find their trips across the UK too tiring or stressful. Looking after hordes of noisy grandkids is another matter, though. Sometimes they’re grateful to be going home for a rest – and for the chance to stop for a quiet cup of coffee at a National Trust property on the way.


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