Safer driving in old age

Psychological factors that contribute to safer driving among mature age drivers will be examined in new research at the Australian National University (ANU).

The study aims to gain a better understanding of the mental processes inherent to safe driving in order to help older adults remain safe for longer, according to the study’s leaders, Mr Chris Hatherly and Ms Jolanta Samoc.

They are seeking drivers over the age of 60 in Canberra and Queanbeyan willing to take part in the research.

“There is a lot of evidence to show that reaction time and visual abilities decline with age. But in many cases, older adults remain much better drivers than measures of these factors would predict,” Mr Hatherly said.

Figures show that although older drivers are significantly less likely to crash than the youngest road users, older adults who are involved in accidents are much more likely suffer serious injury.

But the decision to stop driving needs to be considered against other factors for older drivers, such as loss of independence and mobility, Ms Samoc said.

“Driving is an important link between older people and an active social life. When older people cease to drive, there may be serious consequences for mental health.”

The research will assist in the development of a computerised assessment that would give a better indication of possible driving risk.

“We are also investigating the role of confidence and self-monitoring in the mental processes which are thought to underlie driving abilities,” Mr Hatherly said.

Research supervisor Dr Kaarin Anstey, from the Centre for Mental Health Research at ANU, said the study would provide valuable information about older drivers and would also contribute to knowledge of driving psychology.

“For the safety of all road users, it is necessary to develop methods of helping older adults to drive more safely, and of objectively identifying those who may need to reduce or cease driving.

“On the other hand, there is evidence to suggest that in some cases, older adults cease driving while their skills and abilities are still highly competent.”

Researchers are seeking volunteers over 60 years who currently drive, or who have ceased driving recently. Volunteers would undertake a two-hour assessment, including vision tests, questionnaires and computer tasks and would be given feedback on their performance. Potential participants should contact Mr Hatherly or Ms Samoc on 02 6125 1654 during business hours.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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