1. Study suggests perceptual judgment, motor skills not fully developed until age 14

    April 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Iowa press release:

    For adults, crossing the street by foot seems easy. You take stock of the traffic and calculate the time it will take to get from one side to the other without being hit.

    Yet it’s anything but simple for a child.

    New research from the University of Iowa shows children under certain ages lack the perceptual judgment and motor skills to cross a busy road consistently without putting themselves in danger. The researchers placed children from 6 to 14 years old in a realistic simulated environment and asked them to cross one lane of a busy road multiple times.

    The results: Children up to their early teenage years had difficulty consistently crossing the street safely, with accident rates as high as 8 percent with 6-year-olds. Only by age 14 did children navigate street crossing without incident, while 12-year-olds mostly compensated for inferior road-crossing motor skills by choosing bigger gaps in traffic.

    “Some people think younger children may be able to perform like adults when crossing the street,” says Jodie Plumert, professor in the UI’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. “Our study shows that’s not necessarily the case on busy roads where traffic doesn’t stop.”

    For parents, that means taking extra precautions. Be aware that your child may struggle with identifying gaps in traffic large enough to cross safely. Young children also may not have developed the fine motor skills to step into the street the moment a car has passed, like adults have mastered. And, your child may allow eagerness to outweigh reason when judging the best time to cross a busy street.

    “They get the pressure of not wanting to wait combined with these less-mature abilities,” says Plumert, corresponding author on the study, which appears in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, published by the American Psychological Association. “And that’s what makes it a risky situation.”

    The National Center for Statistics and Analysis reported 8,000 injuries and 207 fatalities involving motor vehicles and pedestrians age 14 and younger in 2014.

    Plumert and her team wanted to understand the reasons behind the accident rates. For the study, they recruited children who were 6, 8, 10, 12, and 14 years old, as well as a control group of adults. Each participant faced a string of approaching virtual vehicles travelling 25 mph (considered a benchmark speed for a residential neighborhood) and then crossed a single lane of traffic (about nine feet wide). The time between vehicles ranged from two to five seconds. Each participant negotiated a road crossing 20 times, for about 2,000 total trips involving the age groups.

    The crossings took place in an immersive, 3-D interactive space at the Hank Virtual Environments Lab on the UI campus. The simulated environment is “very compelling,” says Elizabeth O’Neal, a graduate student in psychological and brain sciences and the study’s first author. “We often had kids reach out and try to touch the cars.”

    The researchers found 6-year-olds were struck by vehicles 8 percent of the time; 8-year-olds were struck 6 percent; 10-year-olds were struck 5 percent; and 12-year-olds were struck 2 percent. Those age 14 and older had no accidents.

    Children contend with two main variables when deciding whether it’s safe to cross a street, according to the research. The first involves their perceptual ability, or how they judge the gap between a passing car and an oncoming vehicle, taking into account the oncoming car’s speed and distance from the crossing. Younger children, the study found, had more difficulty making consistently accurate perceptual decisions.

    The second variable was their motor skills: How quickly do children time their step from the curb into the street after a car just passed? Younger children were incapable of timing that first step as precisely as adults, which in effect gave them less time to cross the street before the next car arrived.

    “Most kids choose similar size gaps (between the passing car and oncoming vehicle) as adults,” O’Neal says, “but they’re not able to time their movement into traffic as well as adults can.”

    The researchers found children as young as 6 crossed the street as quickly as adults, eliminating crossing speed as a possible cause for pedestrian-vehicle collisions.

    So what’s a child to do? One recommendation is for parents to teach their children to be patient and to encourage younger ones to choose gaps that are even larger than the gaps adults would choose for themselves, O’Neal says. Also, civic planners can help by identifying places where children are likely to cross streets and make sure those intersections have a pedestrian-crossing aid.

    “If there are places where kids are highly likely to cross the road, because it’s the most efficient route to school, for example, and traffic doesn’t stop there, it would be wise to have crosswalks,” Plumert says.


  2. Study suggests hands-free technology may still affect driver attention

    April 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society press release:

    Drivers commonly perform secondary tasks while behind the wheel to navigate or communicate with others, which has led to a significant increase in the number of injuries and fatalities attributed to distracted driving. Advances in wearable technology, particularly devices such as Google Glass, which feature voice control and head-up display (HUD) functionalities, raise questions about how these devices might impact driver attention when used in vehicles. New human factors/ergonomics research examines how these interface characteristics can have a deleterious effect on safety.

    In their Human Factors article, “Driving While Interacting With Google Glass: Investigating the Combined Effect of Head-Up Display and Hands-Free Input on Driving Safety and Multitask Performance,” authors Kathryn Tippey, Elayaraj Sivaraj, and Thomas Ferris observed the performance of 24 participants in a driving simulator. The participants engaged in four texting-while-driving tasks: baseline (driving only), and driving plus reading and responding to text messages via (a) a smartphone keyboard, (b) a smartphone voice-to text system, and (c) Google Glass’s voice-to-text system using HUD.

    The authors found that driving performance degraded regardless of secondary texting task type, but manual entry led to slower reaction times and significantly more eyes-off-road glances than voice-to-text input using both smartphones and Google Glass. Glass’ HUD function required only a change in eye direction to read and respond to text messages, rather than the more disruptive change in head and body posture associated with smartphones. Participants also reported that Glass was easier to use and interfered less with driving than did the other devices tested.

    Tippey, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for Research and Innovation in Systems Safety at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, says, “Our evidence suggests that adding voice input and using an HUD can make secondary tasks like texting while driving less unsafe. However, regardless of entry or display method, it is not safe to perform these types of secondary task while driving in environments where the workload from driving is already heavy.”


  3. Drivers who slow down while using mobile phones may potentially increase on-road conflicts

    April 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Queensland University of Technology press release:

    Drivers who slow down while using mobile phones have the potential to increase on-road conflicts, a new QUT study warns.

    Oscar Oviedo-Trespalacios, from QUT’s Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety — Queensland (CARRS-Q), said distracted drivers reducing their speed might sound favourable in terms of safety, but it could also lead to other types of crash risk.

    Drivers frustrated by following slow moving vehicles whose drivers have reduced speed to keep talking on their phones may perform aggressive overtaking manoeuvres, increasing the crash risk for other road users,” he said.

    The results of the study “Effects of road infrastructure and traffic complexity in speed adaptation behaviour of distracted drivers” have been published in the leading road safety journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.

    Mr Oviedo-Trespalacios said using a mobile phone while driving had been shown to increase crash risk four-fold.

    “Young drivers are particularly at risk as there is a greater prevalence of driving while using a mobile phone in this age group.

    “While it’s illegal to use a handheld mobile phone while driving in Australia research has shown drivers continue to adopt the dangerous practice.”

    In a bid to highlight the dangers but also identify possible solutions, Mr Oviedo-Trespalacios’ research has looked at the way drivers react and respond to mobile phone use behind the wheel.

    “We found that on average distracted drivers travel at about 5km/h slower when following another vehicle and almost 3km/h slower in free-flowing traffic.

    “The negative consequences this has on other road users include increased risk of nose-to-tail crashes as a result of sudden stopping, perception of discourteous or aggressive driver behaviour, as well congestion to the transport system,” he said.

    “I guess the question needs to be asked, do we really want to sacrifice safety, efficiency and courtesy just to have a conversation?”

    Mr Oviedo-Trespalacios said the research also suggested ideas for safe ways to use mobile phones while driving.

    “We need to consider that if we can’t stop drivers using their mobile phones, is there a way to make it safe?

    “For example, changing the design of mobile phones so they are context-aware and only work when it is safe to do so.

    “Other options maybe looking at advances in technology and developing warning systems that alert drivers when they are distracted, or advise drivers of when it is safe to use their phone handsfree.”


  4. Study suggests brain can’t cope with making a left-hand turn and talking on hands-free cell phone

    March 4, 2013 by Ashley

    From the St. Michael’s Hospital press release via EurekAlert!:

    driving frustrationMost serious traffic accidents occur when drivers are making a left-hand turn at a busy intersection.

    When those drivers are also talking on a hands-free cell phone, “that could be the most dangerous thing they ever do on the road,” said Dr. Tom Schweizer, a researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital.

    Researchers led by Dr. Schweizer tested healthy young drivers operating a novel driving simulator equipped with a steering wheel, brake pedal and accelerator inside a high-powered functional MRI. All previous studies on distracted driving have used just a joy-stick or trackball or else patients passively watching scenarios on a screen.

    Immersing a driving simulator with a fully functional steering wheel and pedals in an MRI at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre allowed researchers to map in real time which parts of the brain were activated or deactivated as the simulator took them through increasingly difficult driving maneuvers.

    The researchers were able to show for the first time that making a left-hand turn requires a huge amount of brain activation and involves far more areas of the brain than driving on a straight road or other maneuvers.

    When the drivers were also involved in a conversation, the part of the brain that controls vision significantly reduced its activity as the part that controls monitoring a conversation and attention was activated.

    The research was published today online in the open access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

    Visually, a left-hand turn is quite demanding,” Dr. Schweizer said. “You have to look at oncoming traffic, pedestrians and lights, and coordinate all that. Add talking on a cell phone, and your visual area shuts down significantly, which obviously is key to performing the maneuver.”

    The simulation had the drivers making six left turns with oncoming traffic, which required them to decide when to turn safely. It then distracted them, by making them answer a series of true-false audio questions, such as “Does a triangle have four sides?” The MRIs showed that blood moved from the visual cortex, which controls sight, to the prefrontal cortex, which controls decision-making.

    “Brain activity shifted dramatically from the posterior, visual and spatial areas [of the brain] to the prefrontal cortex,” said Dr. Schweizer, a neuroscientist and director of the Neuroscience Research Program at the hospital’s Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute.

    “This study provides real-time neuroimaging evidence supporting previous behavioural observations suggesting that multitasking while driving may compromise vision and alertness. ‘Hands free’ not does mean ‘brains free.'”

    Dr. Schweizer said his study needed to be replicated in larger groups and with various age groups and with people with known brain impairments such as Alzheimer’s disease.


  5. Study examines causes of road rage

    January 15, 2013 by Sue

    From the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health press release via EurekAlert!:

    driving frustrationCutting in and weaving, speeding, and hostile displays are among the top online complaints posted by drivers, according to a new study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) recently published in an online issue of Accident Analysis and Prevention.

    Driver aggression is a major safety concern and researchers estimate this behaviour is a factor in nearly half of all motor vehicle collisions. Identifying the underlying causes and strategies for preventing driver aggression continues to be a priority.

    CAMH researcher Dr. Christine Wickens reviewed thousands of entries posted on RoadRagers.com, a website that invites drivers to submit complaints about unsafe and improper driving.

    Following a previous study evaluating complaints submitted to the Ontario Provincial Police, Dr. Wickens turned her attention towards the crop of new websites that ask drivers to describe the unsafe driving practices they’ve observed.

    “These websites can tell us more about what people are doing out there in the real world,” she explained.

    Dr. Wickens, a post-doctoral fellow with CAMH’s Social and Epidemiological Research Department, and her colleagues evaluated more than 5,000 entries posted on RoadRagers.com between 1999 and 2007. The team sorted the complaints — which consisted mostly of reports on driving in Canada and the U.S. — into various categories, including: speeding/racing, erratic/improper braking and blocking.

    The most common complaints involved cutting in and weaving (54 per cent of all complaints), speeding (29 per cent) and hostile displays (25 per cent).

    The research team also discussed how slighted drivers might feel compelled to retaliate or ‘teach other drivers a lesson.’ In some extreme cases, one reckless action can escalate into a hostile situation between multiple drivers.

    The next step in the research will be to examine how slighted drivers perceive the offensive actions of another motorist: Is the other driver in a rush, negligent, or deliberately aggressive? How do these different interpretations affect how we respond?

    With this in mind, Dr. Wickens advises drivers to work hard at keeping cool behind the wheel.

    Remind yourself to take a deep breath, stay calm, and do whatever it takes to bring your anger down,” she said.

    Dr. Wickens suggested that educating drivers during their training on the most common complaints might help them realize the impact of their actions and avoid these types of behaviours. The training could also teach drivers to be aware of their own responses associated with behaviours they are likely to encounter on the road.


  6. Study suggests intense mind wandering could account for “substantial proportion” of road crashes

    December 31, 2012 by Sue

    From the BMJ – British Medical Journal press release via ScienceDaily:

    Senior driverPeople whose minds wander whilst driving, especially when intense, are significantly more likely to be responsible for a crash and are threatening safety on the roads, warns a study in the Christmas issue published on bmj.com today.

    The term “mind wandering” has been coined to describe thinking unrelated to the task at hand. It happens most often at rest or during repetitive tasks.

    All drivers experience occasional drifting of their minds towards internal thoughts, a temporary “zoning out” that might dangerously distract them from the road.

    External distractions (such as from mobile phones) are known to be linked with crashes, but inattention arising from internal distractions (such as worries) is still poorly understood in the context of road safety.

    A team of researchers from France therefore wanted to see if mind wandering would increase the risk of being responsible for a crash.

    They interviewed 955 drivers injured in a motor vehicle crash attending the emergency department at Bordeaux University Hospital between April 2010 and August 2011. All participants were 18 years or older.

    Patients were asked to describe their thought content just before the crash. Researchers also assessed how disruptive/distracting the thought was. Mitigating factors considered to reduce driver responsibility, such as road environment, traffic conditions, traffic rule obedience and difficulty of the driving task were also taken into account.

    Finally, blood alcohol level was tested as well as the driver’s emotional state just before the crash.

    They classified 453 (47%) drivers as responsible for the crash and 502 (53%) as not responsible.

    Over half (52%) reported some mind wandering just before the crash, and its content was highly disrupting / distracting (defined as intense mind wandering) in 121 (13%).

    Intense mind wandering was associated with greater responsibility for a crash — 17% (78 of 453 crashes in which the driver was thought to be responsible) compared with 9% (43 of 502 crashes in which the driver was not thought to be responsible).

    This association remained after adjusting for other confounding factors that could have affected the results.

    The authors conclude that the association between intense mind wandering and crashing “could stem from a risky decoupling of attention from online perception, making the driver prone to overlook hazards and to make more errors during driving.”

    They add that this study could lead to new interventions to help drivers by detecting periods of inattention. “Detecting those lapses can therefore provide an opportunity to further decrease the toll of road injury.”


  7. Study suggests link between risk-glorifying video games and reckless driving by teens

    September 12, 2012 by Sue

    From the American Psychological Association press release via EurekAlert!:

    Playing video gamesTeens who play mature-rated, risk-glorifying video games may be more likely than those who don’t to become reckless drivers who experience increases in automobile accidents, police stops and willingness to drink and drive, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

    “Most parents would probably be disturbed to learn that we observed that this type of game play was more strongly associated with teen drivers being pulled over by the police than their parenting practices,” said study lead author Jay G. Hull, PhD, of Dartmouth College. “With motor vehicle accidents the No. 1 cause of adolescent deaths, popular games that increase reckless driving may constitute even more of a public health issue than the widely touted association of video games and aggression.”

    Researchers conducted a longitudinal study involving more than 5,000 U.S. teenagers who answered a series of questions over four years in four waves of telephone interviews. The findings were published online in APA’s journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

    Fifty percent of the teens reported in the first interview that their parents allowed them to play mature-rated games and among those, 32 percent said they had played Spiderman II, 12 percent had played Manhunt and 58 percent had played Grand Theft Auto III. Playing video games such as Grand Theft Auto III, Manhunt and Spiderman II was associated with increases in sensation seeking, rebelliousness and self-reported risky driving, the study said. Higher rankings in sensation seeking and rebelliousness were directly linked to risky driving habits, automobile accidents, being stopped by police and a willingness to drink and drive, according to the analysis.

    Between the second and third interviews, teens who said they had been pulled over by the police increased from 11 percent to 21 percent; those who said they had a car accident went from 8 percent to 14 percent. In the third interview, when the teens were about 16 years old, 25 percent said “yes” when asked if they engaged in any unsafe driving habits.

    In the final interview when the teens were about 18, 90 percent said “yes” to at least one of the same risky driving habits: 78 percent admitted to speeding; 26 percent to tailgating; 23 percent to failure to yield; 25 percent to weaving in and out of traffic; 20 percent to running red lights; 19 percent to ignoring stop signs; 13 percent to crossing a double line; 71 percent to speeding through yellow lights; and 27 percent to not using a seatbelt.

    The researchers determined the teens’ levels of sensation seeking and rebelliousness by asking them to rate themselves on a four-point scale following questions such as “I like to do dangerous things” and “I get in trouble at school.” The study controlled for variables such as gender, age, race, parent income and education and parenting styles described as warm and responsive or demanding.

    Playing these kinds of video games could also result in these adolescents developing personalities that reflect the risk-taking, rebellious characters they enact in the games and that could have broader consequences that apply to other risky behaviors such as drinking and smoking,” Hull said.

    The initial sample was 49 percent female, 11 percent black, 62 percent white, 19 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Asian/Pacific Islander and 6 percent multiple ethnicity. The surveys began when the average age of the participants was about 14; at the second survey, they were about 15; at the third, 16; and at the fourth, 18. Eight months separated the first and second interviews; one-and-a-half years separated the second and third interviews; and two years separated the third and fourth interviews. As is typical in longitudinal surveys, some participants dropped out. The number completing the questions for this study totaled 4,575 for the second interview, 3,653 for the third and 2,718 for the fourth.

    The information regarding the teens’ driving habits was based on their own reports during the interviews, and therefore interpretation of the causes of their driving habits was speculative, the authors noted. “At the same time, because the study began when the participants were playing video games but were too young to drive, it is clear that the videogame exposure preceded the risky driving,” Hull said.


  8. Study shows why some types of multitasking are more dangerous than others

    July 24, 2012 by Sue

    From the Ohio State University press release by Jeff Grabmeier:

    In a new study that has implications for distracted drivers, researchers found that people are better at juggling some types of multitasking than they are at others. Trying to do two visual tasks at once hurt performance in both tasks significantly more than combining a visual and an audio task, the research found.

    Alarmingly, though, people who tried to do two visual tasks at the same time rated their performance as better than did those who combined a visual and an audio task – even though their actual performance was worse.

    “Many people have this overconfidence in how well they can multitask, and our study shows that this particularly is the case when they combine two visual tasks,” said Zheng Wang, lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University.

    People’s perception about how well they’re doing doesn’t match up with how they actually perform.”

    Eye-tracking technology used in the study showed that people’s gaze moved around much more when they had two visual tasks compared to a visual and an audio task, and they spent much less time fixated on any one task. That suggests distracted visual attention, Wang said.

    People in the study who had two visual tasks had to complete a pattern-matching puzzle on a computer screen while giving walking directions to another person using instant messaging (IM) software.

    Those who combined a visual and an audio task tried to complete the same pattern-matching task on the screen while giving voice directions using audio chat.

    The two multitasking scenarios used in this study can be compared to those drivers may face, Wang said.

    People who try to text while they are driving are combining two mostly visual tasks, she said. People who talk on a phone while driving are combining a visual and an audio task.

    “They’re both dangerous, but as both our behavioral performance data and eyetracking data suggest, texting is more dangerous to do while driving than talking on a phone, which is not a surprise,” Wang said.

    “But what is surprising is that our results also suggest that people may perceive that texting is not more dangerous – they may think they can do a good job at two visual tasks at one time.”

    The study appears in a recent issue of the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

    The study involved 32 college students who sat at computer screens. All of the students completed a matching task in which they saw two grids on the screen, each with nine cells containing random letters or numbers. They had to determine, as quickly as possible, whether the two grids were a “match” or “mismatch” by clicking a button on the screen. They were told to complete as many trials as possible within two minutes.

    After testing the participants on the matching task with no distractions, the researchers had the students repeat the matching task while giving walking directions to a fellow college student, “Jennifer,” who they were told needed to get to an important job interview. Participants had to help “Jennifer” get to her interview within six minutes. In fact, “Jennifer” was a trained confederate experimenter. She has been trained to interact with participants in a realistic but scripted way to ensure the direction task was kept as similar as possible across all participants.

    Half of the participants used instant messaging software (Google Chat) to type directions while the other half used voice chat (Google Talk with headphones and an attached microphone) to help “Jennifer” reach her destination.

    Results showed that multitasking, of any kind, seriously hurt performance.

    Participants who gave audio directions showed a 30 percent drop in visual pattern-matching performance. But those who used instant messaging did even worse – they had a 50 percent drop in pattern-matching performance.

    In addition, those who gave audio directions completed more steps in the directions task than did those who used IM.

    But when participants were asked to rate how well they did on their tasks, those who used IM gave themselves higher ratings than did those who used audio chat.

    “It may be that those using IM felt more in control because they could respond when they wanted without being hurried by a voice in their ears,” Wang said.

    “Also, processing several streams of information in the visual channel may give people the illusion of efficiency. They may perceive visual tasks as relatively effortless, which may explain the tendency to combine tasks like driving and texting.”

    Eye-tracking results from the study showed that people paid much less attention to the matching task when they were multitasking, Wang said. As expected, the results were worse for those who used IM than for those who used voice chat.

    Overall, the percentage of eye fixations on the matching-task grids declined from 76 percent when that was the participants’ only task to 33 percent during multitasking.

    Fixations on the grid task decreased by 53 percent for those using IM and a comparatively better 35 percent for those who used voice chat.

    “When people are using IM, their visual attention is split much more than when they use voice chat,” she said.

    These results suggest we need to teach media and multitasking literacy to young people before they start driving, Wang said.

    “Our results suggest many people may believe they can effectively text and drive at the same time, and we need to make sure young people know that is not true.”

    In addition, the findings show that technology companies need to be aware of how people respond to multitasking when they are designing products.

    For example, these results suggest GPS voice guidance should be preferred over image guidance because people are more effective when they combine visual with aural tasks compared to two visual tasks.

    “We need to design media environments that emphasize processing efficiency and activity safety. We can take advantage of the fact that we do better when we can use visual and audio components rather than two visual components,” Wang said.

    The work was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

    Co-authors of the study were Prabu David of Washington State University, Jatin Srivastava of Ohio University and Stacie Powers, Christine Brady, Jonathan D’Angelo and Jennifer Moreland, all of Ohio State.


  9. Study suggests using satellite navigation systems can reduce driver performance

    June 11, 2012 by Sue

    From the Lancaster University press release via Physorg:

    New findings from academics at Lancaster University and Royal Holloway, University of London reveal using satellite navigation systems can reduce drivers’ performance behind the wheel.

    The academics carried out a series of experiments where volunteers were set tasks by a computer which mimicked the instructions given by a sat nav. Their results showed that when people were following complicated sat nav instructions they tended to drive faster, with more steering variations, as well as being less likely to notice pedestrians who might be stepping out.

    Dr. Pragya Agarwal from Lancaster University said: “The results from our research have implications for the way these systems can be designed to be more effective and user-friendly in the future. Our research shows how people’s behavior while driving is influenced by the use of these navigational systems, which are becoming increasingly ubiquitous.

    “It is, therefore, important that we gain a more complete understanding of what specific decisions people make while using these systems, and which factors influence driving safety and behaviour, and to what extent.”

    Dr. Polly Dalton from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, adds: “What is interesting is that people were able to follow one simple instruction without any significant impact on their driving but as soon as they had to remember a compound instruction, consisting of two sequential directions, we began to notice a difference in their driving ability.

    “A lot of effort has gone into designing visually friendly sat nav devices but our research highlights the importance of the way in which the auditory instructions are given.”

    Three quarters of those participating in the experiments reported that they only used the sat nav’s visual display for clarification, elaboration or reminders of the auditory instructions which researchers say confirms the central importance of the auditory instructions to the majority of users.

    The academics say that whilst the spoken instructions alone are one of the safest ways to present navigational information while driving, it is important to acknowledge that the task of processing and responding to ongoing auditory information exerts cognitive demands.

    Dr. Dalton explains: “Our findings show that even auditorily-presented information alone can interfere with the task of driving. Studies of in-car mobile phone use have found similar results, however people often assume that following a sat nav device is easier than having a mobile phone conversation, but this of course depends on the exact level of complexity of the auditory navigation instructions produced by the system in question.”

    The research, funded by Nesta and the ESRC, is published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.


  10. Study suggests existence of gap between seniors’ assessment of driving ability and performance

    May 29, 2012 by Sue

    From the University of Alabama at Birmingham press release via Newswise:

    A new report shows that 85 percent of senior drivers rated their driving as “excellent” or “good” during a five-year period although 25 percent reported having a crash. No participants rated their driving as poor, and less than 1 percent rated their driving as fair, which points to a possible lack of awareness of safe driving ability.

    The study, by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and published in Accident Analysis and Prevention, analyzed Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration data from 350 older adult drivers ages 65-91 with a mean age of 74. The drivers were asked about self-reported incidents and state-reported crashes during a five-year period. They also were asked to rate their own driving abilities at year five. The study found that self-rated driving ability had no relationship with a previous history of adverse driving outcomes, such as crashes, other than receiving recommendations from physicians or friends to stop or limit driving.

    The study also found older men are more likely to have adverse driving outcomes, but that they were not more likely to be told by physicians and friends to stop or limit their driving.

    “A large debate in driving research is whether or not at-risk drivers can self-regulate, and thus possibly reduce their crash risk. This research indicates that, at least for this sample, a previous history of four adverse driving outcomes has no relationship with self-reported driving ability, thus possibly indicating a lack of awareness in regards to driving abilities,” says Lesley Ross, Ph.D., author of the study and assistant professor in the UAB Department of Psychology. “The majority of older adults can continue to drive safely well into old age. However, there is a group of older drivers who are at greater risk for crashing.”

    Driver license requirements for seniors vary by state. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety eight states and the District of Columbia require vision tests for seniors. Illinois is the only state that mandates a road test for those ages 75 and older. This means that all other states rely on seniors to self-regulate their driving.

    “Testing visual acuity is not enough to predict crashes. The screenings that show true promise in determining whether or not a senior is able to drive safely are performance-based,” says Ross. “Until that happens, we found that receiving a suggestion to stop or limit driving had the greatest impact on seniors self-rated driving abilities.

    “Clearly, there needs to be more open discussion among older adults, their family and friends, as well as physicians. Driving is essential to maintaining independence and mobility for many older adults, and discussions on limiting driving should not be taken lightly. It is a complex issue with real implications for older adults and their families,” Ross says.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says there were 32.3 million drivers over the age of 65 on the road in 2008 and they expect that number to surpass 40 million by 2020. A recent study using data from the National Automotive Sampling System’s General Estimates System revealed older drivers experience severe injuries and fatalities at a higher rate than any other age group.

    Ross’ work is supported by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging. Her co-authors are Joan E. Dodson, Jerri D. Edwards, Ph.D., Michelle Ackerman and the chair of the psychology department, Karlene Ball, Ph.D.