This current blog post reminded me of my dear senior citizen colleague, Fletcher Platt, Sr. Although Fletch had retired from the auto industry and had played an important role in placing seat belts in autos and in establishing a center for research into safe driving, he had become concerned about whether he could still drive safely. We continued to communicate about this and other topics. Eventually my wife and I had the privilege of visiting him at his retirement home a couple of times. He established, maintained, and constantly upgraded a website I wrote about in this blog (see the healthymemory blog posts, “An Interesting and Inspirational Website,” “A Life That Leads to a Healthy Memory,” and “Transactive Memory: An Important Concept Not to Be Overlooked”). Unfortunately his website is gone with his passing, but I know he would have been much interested in this post.
When number of miles driven is equated, elderly drivers have higher crash rates than all other drivers, with the exception of teenagers. Moreover, drivers older than 70 are over involved in right-of-way crashes primarily at intersections where hazards typically emerge from the side of the driver’s vehicle. A wide variety of causes have been proposed to include:
diminished cognitive abilities such as the narrowing of the drivers’ useful field of view.
a loss of ability to attend selectively to what is important.
poor judgment of vehicle speed
diminished physical abilities that interfere with ability to control their vehicle
failure to turn their heads
older drivers scan at intersections less effectively than do younger experienced drivers.
Pollatsek, Romoser, and Fisher1 conducted research to determine whether scanning itself, in the absence of distractions and other traffic, was also a problem. To address this question they used two groups of drivers as research participants using driving simulators. A group of drivers over 70 and a control group of experienced drivers aged 25-55. The difference in scanning behavior occurred in the scenario in which the driver first has to stop at a stop sign and then go straight through the intersection. The critical threat region here is the two seconds before the driver entered the intersection and the one second after the driver entered (when the driver still might have been able to avoid a crash). It was during this critical period when the older drivers did not look around as much as the younger drivers. After they left the intersection and at less hazardous intersections, both groups looked around equally. The conclusion the researchers reached was that the older drivers had simply fallen into a bad habit.
Of course, the critical question here is whether anything can be done about this. Accordingly, the researchers examined the effect of training. The driving behavior of one group was recorded by three cameras that were placed in their cars. The research involved two other groups. One was a control group that was given no training. Another control group was given 30 to 40 minutes of instruction that included coaching about where to look at intersections and why less careful scanning was an important cause of crashes for elderly drivers. The group that had had their driving behavior recorded was shown the video of their driving behavior in addition to receiving the 30 to 40 minute block of instruction. At the end of this training the group given both the training and the video feedback reached a level of driving performance that was indistinguishable from the performance of younger experienced drivers.
Apparently, the feedback on their individual driving performance was critical. It is likely that the group that received only the instruction concluded that they knew and did that and that the training was not necessary. Feedback was required to show the drivers that they had fallen into a bad habit and needed to correct it.
As far as losses in the ability to divide attention, in peripheral vision, visual working memory, in visual processing and in the useful field of view, there are computer-based courses to rebuild and enhance these skills. Some of these can be found at www.PositScience.com.
As for the question posed in the title of this article. Develop training programs for the elderly and train them.
© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.