Improving the safety of aging road users: A mini-review - Boot, Stothart, Charness (2013) - Article

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Many countries are dealing with population ageing. Older people have a higher chance of getting into a car accident. Older people often have difficulty turning across opposing traffic, driving at night, road-hazard detection and seeing and reading signs. However, driving cessation is not an acceptable solution for several reasons. It places a burden on family and caregivers, and increases the risk of depression, isolation, and a decreased quality of life and health. For this reason, we will investigate alternative means to improve road safety.

Person-environment fit framework

Perceptual and cognitive abilities decline with age. This makes driving more difficult for older drivers compared to younger drivers. There are two ways this can be dealt with. Either the abilities or strategies of the person need to be changed, or the characteristics of the environment need to be changed.

Impairments for older people

Vision

Driving is mostly visual. Not being able to see well is associated with driving discomfort, difficulty, and crash risk. Older people often lose the ability to focus their eyes for near vision, their eyes let less light through, and eye diseases can seriously impair visual acuity.

Hearing

Older people often show hearing declines. Hearing can be very important while driving though. Other people can warn you with their horn or a siren from an emergency vehicle may need to pass. Another very important sound is the click feedback from the lane-change signal.

Attention

While driving it is important to be able to scan the visual field for important objects and take the right action. It is often necessary to move the eyes or the head to be able to find all the relevant information. In older people there are declines in the visual search efficiency, the ability to divide attention, and the ability to rapidly switch attention.

Processing speed

Older adults need a lot more time to process information. They often respond much later and can cause dangerous situations.

Disease processes

Older people have more diseases. These diseases and their medications can impair functioning, and have been found to be associated to more car accidents.

Countermeasures

Self-regulation

Self-regulation can be a possible solution. This means that older adults themselves avoid certain driving conditions, such as driving at night and bad weather. They can also drive slower so that they have more time to oversee a situation and make a decision. Another way to facility safe driving is to design better vehicles and road systems.

Other possibilities

Other possible solutions are offset turn lanes, improving nighttime visibility, introducing advanced street name signs, increasing the text size and changing the perception-action time estimates of older drivers.

Training

We can also improve the abilities of older drivers to help them cope with the demands of driving despite age-related changes. Research has shown that the following types of training seem promising, namely perceptual training, eye scanning training, physical training, older driver education programs, and education plus On-Road training.

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