'Elderly drivers more hazardous for pedestrians'

Israeli researches say they take precautions, but not enough to compensate for impaired reactions.

Jerusalem Traffic 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem Traffic 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
There’s a reason why elderly people behind the wheel are often moving slower than everyone else: They can’t detect hazards -- especially pedestrians -- as well as younger drivers and they compensate by taking their foot off the pedal, new research published in Israel shows.
Researchers have long known that elderly drivers are more careful and benefit from decades of experience. But a new study says that it doesn’t matter. Old folks are half as likely as younger drivers to be able to see hazards due to their limited field of view. The study also found that when approaching an intersection, the elderly tended to wait until they were much closer before braking than younger, experienced drivers.
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The study was published by Accident Analysis and Prevention based on research done with simulators at Ben Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel. It came in response to an increasing number of pedestrian-related accidents among elderly drivers.
Elderly drivers, aged 65 and older, are the fastest growing age group in the Western world and more senior citizens than ever are on the roads. Their accident rate is lower than for young whipper-snappers, but studies like BGU’s show that the elderly aren’t cautious enough because their abilities are less than they believe.
“The elderly population is increasing. Authorities need to pay more attention and provide more support to this driver group” Tal Oron-Gilad, one of the researchers explained to The Media Line. “These findings strengthen the notion that elderly drivers, shown to have a narrower useful field of view (UFV), may also be limited in their ability to detect hazards, particularly when outside the center of their view.”
The research used two evaluation methods. The first was having a test group watch videos of traffic scenes, and identify hazardous situations by pressing a button. The second was done at the BGU’s Human Factors Safety Lab, where participants got behind the wheel of a Cadillac sedan rigged to a traffic simulator, which measured braking actions.
This test found that the elderly group performed braking actions half as often as the non-elderly group in response to pedestrians on sidewalks and shoulders. They compensated by reducing their speed by almost 20% to give them more time to respond to dangers, even if there were none, the study found.
“Elderly drivers are aware of their declined ability to detect hazards and yet may have a real objective problems in detecting objects in their peripheral view. They minimize the risk by reducing their speed, but this may not be sufficient since they are still over involved in pedestrian-related crashes,” said Oron-Gilad, a researcher in BGU's Department of Industrial Engineering and Management.
“The main problem of most studies on elderly’s hazard perception is that they use only technique (video observation), if we had not used two assessment techniques both simulator and video observation the results would have indicated that elderly drivers miss more events in the peripheral view but would not show that they compensate for it (in reducing driving speed). Thus, the novelty here is of using two assessment techniques with similar scenarios,” said Oron-Gilad.
According to a study by the University of Grenada published last month, drivers over 60 have higher crash rates in non-problematic environments, such as junctions, compared with other age groups. Compensating for deteriorating vision, cognition and motor capabilities, senior citizens avoiding risky behaviors like speeding and passing that study also found.
While studies show that the rate of crashes for elderly drivers is rising, it is lower than for drivers under 20. It also noted that elderly drivers are more likely to suffer serious injuries in crashes than middle-aged or younger drivers. Oron-Gilad said that over the past nine years the relative involvement of elderly drivers in pedestrian hits was higher than their relative involvement in crashes in general.
“The notion that elderly drivers do not consider pedestrians as hazards is disturbing,” Oron-Gilad said.
She recommended that authorities help elderly drivers by posting traffic signs or dedicating lane marks that inform them of potential upcoming hazards.