Driving errors increase with ageBlind-spot failures most common
As people get older the number of mistakes they make while driving increase - even if they are healthy and have a safe driving record.
Previous studies on this topic tended to focus on people suffering from some form of mental deterioration, such as Alzheimer's disease. The new study looked at healthy older people who lived independently and were regular car users (at least once a week).
Over 250 volunteers aged between 70 and 88 took part in the tests, which were conducted in Australia by scientists at the Aging Research Unit at the Australian National University. In each case the participant drove on a 12-mile route through city and suburban streets in Brisbane, with a professional driving instructor in the car, which was equipped with an extra brake on the front passenger side for safety.
An occupational therapist sat in the back seat and scored the drivers on various errors, including failure to check blind spots, speeding, sudden braking without cause, veering and tailgating.
Nearly one fifth (17%) of the drivers made critical and potentially hazardous mistakes that required the driving instructor to hit the brake or grab the steering wheel. The rate of these critical mistakes increased four-fold from the youngest (aged 70-74) to the oldest (85-89). The first grouping had an average of less than one critical error whereas the second had an average of almost 4 critical errors.
Although there were no crashes during the tests, those drivers who reported that they had had an accident in the previous five years had a higher rate of critical errors. Male drivers, despite rating themselves more highly than women drivers, in fact performed no better in the tests.
Commenting on these results, lead researcher Kaarin J. Anstey said: "All types of driving errors increased with age, and the errors weren't restricted to a small group of unsafe drivers or those with a history of crashes."
The most common mistakes were those associated with driver blind spots, followed by veering across lanes and failure to use turn signals. All participants had their vision tested before taking part, but the researchers suggest that more work could be done to see if vision impairment contributed to the high rate of blind spot errors.
The study is published online in the journal Neuropsychology.
This article was published on Mon 23 May 2011
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