Fluctuating attentional demand in a simulated driving assessment: the roles of age and driving complexity

Stinchcombe, A., Gagnon, S., Zhang, J. J., Montembeault, P., and Bedard, M.
Taylor & Francis

The purpose of this Canadian simulator study was to explore age differences in attentional demand in response to driving situations with varying complexity. Participants (N=109) were placed into three age groups: drivers aged 65 years and older (N=23), drivers aged 25 to 45 years (N=30), and drivers aged 18 to 24 years (N=56). Participants drove the simulator for a distance of 12.3kms on both two and four lane roads. During this drive, participants were required to manually detect a stimulus, a red triangle, on either the left or right side of their field of view as soon as it appeared by signaling left (downward motion) or right (upward motion) with the signaler located to the left of the steering wheel.

Results determined that attentional demand was greatest when vehicles were both in front of and behind the driver in addition to conducting both left and right turns. The effects of age in attentional demand were observed on both straight roads and lane changes, where older adults experienced greater attentional demands in comparison to younger drivers. This effect of age was also shown in the crossing-path events. Ultimately, the results were consistent with other literature in that older adults showed greater attentional demand in comparison to young and middle-aged adults, and that older drivers also scored more poorly on a global measure of driving safety.

Reference
Stinchcombe, A., Gagnon, S., Zhang, J. J., Montembeault, P., & Bedard, M. (2011). Fluctuating attentional demand in a simulated driving assessment: the roles of age and driving complexity. Traffic injury prevention, 12(6), 576-587.