Distracted Driving in Elderly and Middle-Aged Drivers

Thompson, K.R.; Johnson, A.M.; Emerson, J.L.; Dawson, J.D.; Boer, E.R.; Rizzo, M.

This study examined distracted driving performance among elderly and middle-aged drivers in an instrumented vehicle. The overarching goal of this study was to examine the effects of distracted driving on elderly drivers, as they experience mind and brain aging which affects the central executive and attentional mechanisms required for multitasking. Participants (N=137) were currently licensed drivers without dementia or other medical conditions and ranged from 40 to 89 years old with a mean age of 63. Participants completed visual, motor, and cognitive tests in addition to an assessment of their driving ability. The driving assessment was conducted using a simulator and consisted of two trips, the first being the baseline (off-task) which was 1.3 miles long while driving 65 mph. The second trip was on-task (i.e., engaging in distracting behavior) while driving 1.5 miles at 65 mph.

Results indicated that overall elderly drivers showed more driving safety errors than middle-aged drivers. Additionally, 39% of middle-aged drivers and 33% of elderly drivers did not differ in safety errors during the on-task driving compared to baseline driving segments, while 18% of middle-aged drivers and 28% of elderly drivers actually improved, making fewer safety errors. Results suggested that distractions decrease the number of constant minor adjustments drivers make to maintain their lane position and speed compliance. As a result, during distraction, drivers may experience greater shifts in their lane position and changes in speed, impacting their safety.

Thompson, K. R., Johnson, A. M., Emerson, J. L., Dawson, J. D., Boer, E. R., & Rizzo, M. (2012). Distracted driving in elderly and middle-aged drivers. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 45, 711-717.