Mid-lane driving helps older adults stay safe

(Medical Xpress) -- It's official: older adults are naturally inclined to drive in the middle of the road, leaving the younger generation to cut corners.

This tendency to sit mid-lane is an in-built safety mechanism that helps pensioners stay safe behind the wheel, according to researchers at the University of Leeds.

The findings of the study, which are published in the and Performance, have shown how naturally adapt when they can no longer move with the freedom they once had. Researchers hope that the work will be used to find new ways of helping patients recover lost motor skills, for example, after a stroke.

Aging causes the body to respond more slowly and movements to become less precise. To see how this might affect performance behind the wheel, a team from the University of Leeds' Institute of compared the motor skills of healthy younger adults, aged between 18 and 40, with a group of over-60s.

Using a touch-screen laptop, participants were asked to trace wiggly lines of varying widths - slowly, quickly and at their own preferred pace. They were also asked to steer along 'virtual' winding roads when sitting in a driving simulator.

The researchers found that the made allowances for their age by adopting a 'middle-of-the-road' strategy in both tests. This meant they remained well inside the wiggly lines when tracing, and stayed in the middle of the road lines when driving. Younger participants, in contrast, had a greater tendency to cut corners.

However, when were asked to drive faster in the simulator and to follow narrower paths, all tended to cut corners more - regardless of their age.

"Our results suggest that this compensation strategy is a general phenomenon and not just tied to driving. It seems older people naturally adjust their movements to compensate for their reduced level of skill," said postgraduate researcher Rachel Raw, lead author of the study.

"But this compensation can only take you so far, and when conditions are difficult, perhaps because of snow or hail, or when driving at night time on poorly lit roads, older adults can struggle," she said.

"It is important to establish what strategies are adopted by older drivers in order to ensure their safety - as well as the safety of other road users." said psychology researcher Dr. Richard Wilkie, who supervised the work. "More generally, understanding how older people learn to adapt to a diminished level of skill has implications for our approach to rehabilitating patients with reduced movement, for instance, after a ."

More information: Raw RK et al, 'Movement control in older adults: does old age mean middle of the road?' Journal of Experimental Psychology Human Perception and Performance is published online in advance of publication [doi: 10.1037/a0026568].

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Youth adapt faster than seniors to unexpected events

Jan 18, 2011

Does experience give seniors an edge in reacting to sudden change or are younger people quicker to respond? A new study from Concordia University shows that when a routine task is interrupted by an unexpected event, younger ...

Driving errors increase with age among older drivers

May 16, 2011

Even healthy adults with a safe driving record tend to make more driving errors as they age, including potentially dangerous mistakes, such as failing to check blind spots, according to a study published by the American Psychological ...

Recommended for you

Giving emotions to virtual characters

2 hours ago

Researchers at the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico (UAEM) were able to simulate human facial expressions in virtual characters and use them in order to create better environments within a virtual ...

Emotion-tracking software aims for "mood-aware" internet

2 hours ago

Emotions can be powerful for individuals. But they're also powerful tools for content creators, such as advertisers, marketers, and filmmakers. By tracking people's negative or positive feelings toward ads—via ...

The emotional appeal of stand-up comedy

3 hours ago

Comics taking to the stage at the Edinburgh Fringe this week should take note: how much of a hit they are with their audiences won't be down to just their jokes. As Dr Tim Miles from the University of Surrey has discovered, ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

tadchem
not rated yet Jan 04, 2012
"Cutting corners" is an abbreviation for 'lazy driving,' or if you prefer, compliance with minimal effort. A middle-of-the-road attitude requires tighter cornering and faster reflexes than taking the 'racer's line' through a course, and calls for more planning ahead and for less speed. The algorithms used are completely different, designed to maximize safety margins rather than to minimize effort, time, or distance travelled. Taking the racer's line minimizes G-forces on turns at any particular speed.
FainAvis
not rated yet Jan 05, 2012
Drivers who do not cut corners are survivors. That is how we got to be old.