Performance at simple mental tasks is highly predictive of crash risk and a tiny amount of cognitive training can cut the crash potential for older drivers in half, based on research presented recently at the 2010 annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences.
This year, the age wave of 70 million middle-agers begins to join the ranks of some 39 million drivers already over age 65. Eventually, older drivers are inclined to reduce their driving, nevertheless they still have a collision rate that is the highest of any age group, aside from teenagers. Older drivers have the highest fatality rate from automobile crashes of all age brackets. Yet, in our society “hanging up the keys” can be devastating and may lead to higher incidence of illness and death.
Three researchers presented findings that indicate that the crash risk of older drivers can be more accurately predicted, that it can be cut in half, and that older drivers can extend their period of safe driving.
Dr. Sam Chan of Posit Science presented data from a field trial with auto insurer Allstate involving 4,036 policyholders over age 50. It showed that poor performance in brief computerized cognitive tasks (involving speed of processing, useful field of view and divided attention) was highly predictive of the three-year crash history of drivers.
Dr. Karlene Ball of the University of Alabama presented data from a randomized controlled trial of 2,812 people over age 65 showing that a computerized cognitive training program could cut at-fault crash risk in half after just 10 hours of training. The training also improves reaction time, increases stopping distance by 22 feet, and reducing dangerous driving maneuvers.
Dr. Jerri Edwards of the University of South Florida presented data showing that morbidity increases after driving cessation, independent of health condition. She also showed that the cognitive training program reduced driving cessation risk of those trained by 40 percent, allowing them to keep driving safely, longer.
The computerized assessments and exercises were developed and measured over the past decade with funding from the National Institutes of Health. They are now commercially available to the general public for the first time in a software product called DriveSharp.
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