Drivers aged 70 and older who receive classroom and behind-the-wheel training can significantly improve their driving performance in tests of knowledge and on-road skills, according to a study in the Journal of Gerontology by researchers at Yale School of Medicine.
The driver education program used in the study was specifically targeted at common errors of older drivers, such as following too closely, poor left turns, inappropriate lane changes and speed. The class and on-road training provided strategies to counteract or compensate for these problems.
Addressing these issues is a major concern, say the researchers, because the number of older drivers is expected to increase by 50 percent by the year 2020. They also note that motor vehicle crashes are among the leading causes of accidental injury and death among individuals 65 years and older.
The study, led by Richard Marottoli, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Yale, focused on 126 drivers aged 70 and older who had sub-optimal driving performance during road tests.
Participants were randomly placed either in a control group or in an intervention group that received eight hours of classroom training, based in part on the AAA Driver Improvement Program. The intervention group also received two hours of behind-the-wheel training.
Classroom topics touched on developing good visual habits, communication, adjusting speed, driving emergencies, use of medications and alcohol, and aggressive drivers. The road test assessed a wide range of driving abilities in various settings such as high-traffic density areas, highways and parking-lot maneuvers.
The researchers report that those in the intervention group showed significant improvement. Loss of the ability to drive has been linked to increased depression and participation in fewer out-of-home activities by the elderly, the authors note. "There are a number of changes that occur with aging that can potentially affect driving safety," said Marottoli, who is also director of the Dorothy Adler Geriatric Assessment Center at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
"Doctors and other rehabilitation specialists can take an active role in helping seniors identify and work on potential problems in advance that may limit their mobility later."
Source: YALE University