Background: With the number of older drivers increasing, self-regulation of driving has been proposed as a viable means of balancing the autonomy of older adults against the sometimes competing demand of public safety. In this study, we investigate self-regulation of driving among a group of older adults with varying functional abilities.
Method: Participants in the study comprised 1,543 drivers aged 75 years or older. They completed an objective measure of visual attention from which crash risk was estimated, and self-report measures of driving avoidance, driving exposure, physical functioning, general health status, and vision. Crash records were obtained from the State Department of Public Safety.
Results: Overall, participants were most likely to avoid driving in bad weather followed by driving at night, driving on high traffic roads, driving in unfamiliar areas, and making left-hand turns across oncoming traffic. With the exception of driving at night, drivers at higher risk of crashes generally reported greater avoidance of these driving situations than lower risk drivers. However, across all driving situations a significant proportion of higher risk drivers did not restrict their driving. In general, self-regulation of driving did not result in reduced social engagement.
Conclusion: Some older drivers with visual attention impairments do not restrict their driving in difficult situations. There is a need for physicians and family members to discuss driving behaviors with older adults routinely to ensure their safety. The association between visual attention and driving restriction also has implications for interventions aimed at preserving mobility in the elderly.