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Slow down, Grandma: Driving errors increase as drivers age

Consumer Reports News: May 17, 2011 12:38 PM

We all make mistakes on the road, but a new study finds that people make more driving errors as they age. Research published by the American Psychological Association, on the online journal Neuropsychology, looked at healthy older drivers and their performance on the road and found that all types of driving errors increased with age, no matter what the person’s driving history.

The study looked at 266 people age 70 to 88 who had no signs of dementia, lived on their own, and drove at least once a week. Researchers wanted to find evidence for detecting unsafe older drivers and how declines in brain function—normal cognitive aging--affects driving skills.

Participants drove through a 12-mile course through city and suburban streets in Brisbane, Australia, with a professional driving instructor in the front seat and occupational therapist in the back seat scoring the drivers on various errors.

Failure to check vehicle blind spots was the most common mistake, but researchers also observed veering across lanes and failure to use turn signals. Seventeen percent of drivers made an error that caused the driving instructor to take action either by braking or grabbing the wheel. Also, men were no better than women in the tests and errors quadrupled from the youngest to the oldest participants.

The researchers don’t feel older people should have driving restrictions, but rather more screening, and training, and even alternative means of transport.

The study notes that this information could be helpful in designing skill assessments and education for older drivers. Knowledge of the cognitive affects of aging can also be useful when designing roads, signs, and even vehicles for older drivers.

Learn more from our health report on older drivers, as well as our list of best cars for older drivers.

Elderly drivers: When to take the keys?
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Most seniors unaware how meds can impair their driving

Liza Barth

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