Naturalistic distraction and driving safety in older drivers

Nazan Aksan, Jeffrey D. Dawson, Jamie L. Emerson, Lixi Yu, Ergun Y. Uc, Steven W. Anderson, Matthew Rizzo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Objective: In this study, we aimed to quantify and compare performance of middle-aged and older drivers during a naturalistic distraction paradigm (visual search for roadside targets) and to predict older drivers performance given functioning in visual, motor, and cognitive domains. Background: Distracted driving can imperil healthy adults and may disproportionally affect the safety of older drivers with visual, motor, and cognitive decline. Method: A total of 203 drivers, 120 healthy older (61 men and 59 women, ages 65 years and older) and 83 middle-aged drivers (38 men and 45 women, ages 40 to 64 years), participated in an on-road test in an instrumented vehicle. Outcome measures included performance in roadside target identification (traffic signs and restaurants) and concurrent driver safety. Differences in visual, motor, and cognitive functioning served as predictors. Results: Older drivers identified fewer landmarks and drove slower but committed more safety errors than did middle-aged drivers. Greater familiarity with local roads benefited performance of middle-aged but not older drivers. Visual cognition predicted both traffic sign identification and safety errors, and executive function predicted traffic sign identification over and above vision. Conclusion: Older adults are susceptible to driving safety errors while distracted by common secondary visual search tasks that are inherent to driving. The findings underscore that age-related cognitive decline affects older drivers management of driving tasks at multiple levels and can help inform the design of onroad tests and interventions for older drivers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)841-853
Number of pages13
JournalHuman Factors
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • distraction
  • instrumented vehicle
  • neuropsychological tests
  • older drivers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Applied Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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