A new study has found that most elderly drivers (over 70 that is) realize that their reaction time is slowed. So as a precaution, they naturally compensate by driving more carefully.
However, according to the research, the problem is that many older drivers don't realize that danger is coming at them sideways, not from head-on as they assumed.
The study, conducted by Matthew Romoser from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, found that drivers 70 to 89 years old can best learn to use more side-to-side glances when executing turns at intersections when they practice adding more side glances in a hands-on driving simulator, compared to hearing a lecture.
Romoser said that as people age, they begin to process information more slowly, including visual information. This in turn makes it harder to process moving objects in the visual periphery.
"The statistics reflect this. Rear-end, head-on, single-car and car-pedestrian accidents actually decrease among older drivers in this age group, probably because they do self-regulate," he said.
"But side-impact crashes increase markedly over age 70, and findings from our head-movement studies suggest a reason: older drivers fail to compensate for the loss of peripheral processing. They don't use enough side-to-side glances at intersections so they're having accidents.
"The problem is that, for some older drivers, once they cross the threshold into the intersection while making a turn, side-to-side scanning stops altogether.
"This is worrisome because without an additional quick glance over the shoulder at the beginning of a turn, older drivers are likely to miss the sudden emergence of a previously unseen car. Compared to younger drivers, older drivers tend to focus only in the direction of the turn once they commit themselves to an intersection," he added.
Romoser and colleagues tested three groups of 18 subjects each, ages 70 to 89, who either received classroom lectures on using more side glances at intersections (passive group), active behind-the-wheel training in a driving simulator (active group) or no training (control group).
When comparing the results of a field drive before and after training, the active training group significantly increased side-to-side scanning from 44 percent of opportunities before active training to 83 percent after training, nearly doubling their use of additional side-to-side scanning in intersections.
Meanwhile, both the passive training and control groups demonstrated no significant change in side-to-side scanning.
Romoser says an unexpected and refreshing outcome of this study is that he and colleagues did not meet the resistance or skepticism they had expected from drivers who, in essence, had to face up to significant driving mistakes.
The researcher says with only a single exception "People were very receptive to learning more and doing better."