Blinding Blind Spot for Seniors

Older people with no symptoms of dementia still make dangerous driving mistakes

(RxWiki News) Most have a soft spot for our senior citizens, but when it comes to driving, seniors' blind spot takes over. In a safe driving study, the number of critical driving errors increased porportionally with age.  

In a new Australian safe driving study, participants were aged 70-88 and lived independently. Even though the study participants had no signs of dementia and drove at least once a week, critical driving errors were made.

"Senior drivers should take extra care when driving."

Lead researcher Kaarin J. Anstey, PhD, a psychologist who directs the Aging Research Unit at Australian National University explained the study was designed to help identify unsafe older drivers and show which diminished cognitive abilities in older citizens lead to the driving errors that occur. 

The study's objective was to impact policy decisions regarding older drivers with solid scientific evidence. Antsey continued to note that all types of driving errors increase as one gets older, but driving errors by participants in this study weren’t restricted to a small group of unsafe drivers with bad driving records. 

There is a large variation in cognitive ability among older people. Some of these older people do have diminished cognitive ability, but still maintain a high level of functioning in later life. In other words, some older people with dwindling cognitive abilities are still safe drivers.

Anstey doesn’t advocate restricting driver’s licenses based on age. Interestingly, Anstey explains this position by using the study results. The study has shown that age-based restrictions reduced overall driving rates among older adults which affects their independence. These restrictions, however, didn't reduce the rate of those driving with cognitive limitations.

Anstey advocates driver screening tests for older people as well as additional driver training which should include reinforcement in checking for blind spots.

For the elders who cannot pass the new proposed screening test, alternative transportation options should be available.

The Study

  • Participants completed a battery of cognitive tests and questionnaires
  • They drove on a 12-mile route through city and suburban streets in Brisbane with a professional driving instructor rode in the car
  • An occupational therapist sat in the back seat and scored the drivers on various errors, including failure to check blind spots, speeding, sudden braking without cause, veering and tailgating
Review Date: 
May 18, 2011