Older Drivers Rely on Mental Flexibility to Respond to Road HazardsNovember 20, 2017
As we age, our ability to react quickly to potentially hazardous situations begins to slow. This can have a negative impact on how older drivers react to unpredictable situations on the road, whether it involves avoiding an obstacle or reacting to being cut off by another driver. However, aging is not always a detriment. According to a recent study by researchers from North Carolina State University, older drivers have the ability to adapt their responses in heavy traffic, which helps them identify and avoid road hazards.
Highlights of the Study
Whereas the majority of existing investigations about older drivers tend to focus on aging and the negative effects it has on driver performance, there has been little research into how factors like behavioral compensation can impact an older person’s ability to detect road hazards. For this study, researchers developed a program called the Driver Aware Task, which combined the driving context with well-controlled laboratory procedures that measured attention. The program studied 16 younger adults ages 21 to 30, and 21 older adults ages 65 to 79. Researchers compared each group’s ability to process a range of hazards in a variety of driving scenarios. The results were based on the percentage of correct responses and the reaction time of hazard detection, as well as comparing how sensitive each group was to certain driving images.
Researchers found that, while younger drivers were quicker and more accurate on a task than older drivers, older participants were able to adopt strategies that enabled them to adapt to environmental conditions. These findings are encouraging because they show that age does not necessarily prevent older drivers from remaining safe and productive. In addition, the results of this study could be considered in future training methods. These adaptive strategies can help other older drivers avoid potentially serious car accidents.
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