Research Reports

The Use of Driving Simulation for the Assessment, Training and Testing of Older Drivers

Principal Investigator:

Peter A Hancock, J K Caird, H G White

January 1990

Report no. HFRL/NIA 90-91

Topics: Driver Performance and Behavior

With the lowering of the birth rate over the last decade and a half, and the increased life expectancy associated with improving health care, the United States is undergoing a radical aging of its populace. This change in demographic structure is embedded in a society experiencing clear and rapid advances in its technological capability (Abend & Chen, 1985; U.S. Congress, 1985; Tobias, 1987). One ramification of these combined developments is that expectations of activity and lifestyle change rapidly across successive cohorts. Typically, each sequential cohort expects to retain access to progressively wider ranges of activity which have become characteristic of their respective lifestyles. Contemporary and future cohorts will expect continued access to the privilege of autonomous mobility, typically through the use of the automobile (Wachs, 1988; Waller, 1972). This aspiration generates a conflict between two powerful and somewhat antagonistic societal forces. On one side is the traditional and expected freedom that emanates from owning and operating a personal automobile. On the other is the potential and actual safety hazards associated with the actions of an aging central nervous system having to cope with progressively more complex and demanding driving environments (Federal Highway Administration, 1986). The potential resolution of this conflict lies in the use of a systems approach as a framework to apply Human Factors principles to improve the driving environment, the vehicle, and facilitate the capabilities of the driver. Unfortunately, there is little research available that is specifically directed at the Human Factors problems faced by aging drivers with regard to design of automobiles, roadways, and roadway communication symbols (Forbes, 1985; Staplin, Breton, Haimo, Farber, & Byrnes, 1986; Yanik, 1989). Consequently, there is a fundamental need for research efforts in this area. It is one facet of this systems-based strategy (Doebelin, 1980), namely the use of simulation in training, testing, and evaluating the older driver, that is the focus of the present report.

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