Conference Proceeding

Examination of the Efficacy of Proximity Warning Devices for Young and Older Drivers

  • Arthur F Kramer (University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign)
  • Christopher D Cassavaugh (University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign)
  • William J Horrey (University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign)
  • Ensar Becic (University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign)
  • Jeffrey Mayhugh (University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign)


OBJECTIVESThe study was conducted to examine the efficacy of uni- and multi-modal proximity warningdevices for forward object collision and side-object detection for young and older adult drivers.METHODSTwo experiments were conducted, each with 20 young (18 to 30 years of age) and 20 older (61to 80 years of age) healthy and high functioning drivers. In each, participants drove a series ofbrief (~ 4 minute) highway scenarios with temporally unpredictable forward and side collisionevents (i.e., other vehicles). The experiments were conducted in a fixed-base Drive Safetysimulator with a 135-degree wrap-around forward field and a 135-degree rear field. Light crosswindswere included in Experiment 1, while heavier crosswinds were introduced in the secondexperiment. A secondary visual read-out task from an in-vehicle LCD display was also includedin the second experiment.In Experiment 1, potential collision events were signaled 2.2 seconds before impact by visual,auditory, auditory+visual or tactile+visual warnings that were spatially mapped to the location ofthe obstacle (left, right or center). A control condition in which subjects drove without anyproximity warning device was also included in the experiment. Experiment 2 included thecontrol, auditory+visual and visual warnings from Experiment 1.A number of dependent measures were collected, including velocity, lane position, steeringwheel movement, brake and accelerator position. However, we will focus on the response time(as measured by steering wheel deflections or removal of the foot from the accelerator) topotential collision events as well as the number of collisions in different experimental conditions.RESULTSIn both Experiments 1 and 2, the auditory+visual warning device produced the most rapidresponse and also resulted in the fewest collisions. The reduction in response time and collisions,relative to the no-warning control condition was larger in Experiment 2 than in Experiment 1, likely as a result to the more challenging driving scenarios (with the higher and unpredictablewinds and introduction of the secondary task) in this experiment.Older adults responded just as quickly as younger adults to the potential collision events in bothof the experiments. This is a very surprising finding given a voluminous laboratory literature,which suggests that older adults display slower responses than younger adults on almost any taskthat has been examined in the laboratory.In an effort to understand the age-equivalent response times to collision events, we asked youngand older participants from the first experiment to take part in an additional experimental sessionin which they made simple and choice responses to visual and auditory events in a soundattenuated subject booth. Older adults were substantially (~ 35%) slower in each of these simpleand choice tasks performed in the laboratory.Older adults displayed the same performance benefits (in terms of speeded response time andreductions in collisions) from the proximity warning devices, and particularly theauditory+visual device, in both of the experiments as younger adults. However, in Experiment 2,older adults displayed these benefits by neglecting the number read-out secondary task.CONCLUSIONSThere are several important conclusions from the present study. First, proximity warningdevices, and particularly auditory+visual devices, can substantially speed response time andreduce potential collisions in simulated driving. This is an important observation that has thepotential to reduce automobile accidents. Second, both younger and older adults benefit from theproximity warning devices. Such a finding suggests, that at least for individuals with normalvision and hearing, these devices might have substantial utility across a wide variety of drivers.Third, quite to our surprise, older adult drivers responded just as quickly, with and without theproximity warning devices, to potential collision events as younger drivers. Interestingly, ageequivalencein response time to potential collisions was not observed in simple and choiceauditory and visual laboratory response time tasks. Such data tentatively suggests that experienceand expertise in driving may act as a moderator of age-related decline in general slowing.Given the unpredictable nature of the potential collision events in our study, older drivers may becapitalizing on high levels of vigilance and attentional focus on driving relevant tasks to maintaintheir ability to rapidly respond to collision events. This hypothesis is supported, in part, by thedecrements in secondary task performed observed for the older but not for the younger adults inExperiment 2.The results from the present study are encouraging both with respect to the utility of proximitywarning devices as a means to enhance driver safety as well as for their potential application todrivers of different ages and experience levels. However, clearly additional research will beneeded to verify these results in more challenging simulator and on the road driving situations.

How to Cite:

Kramer, A. & Cassavaugh, C. & Horrey, W. & Becic, E. & Mayhugh, J., (2005) “Examination of the Efficacy of Proximity Warning Devices for Young and Older Drivers”, Driving Assessment Conference 3(2005), 293-294. doi:

Rights: Copyright © 2005 the author(s)

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Published on
29 Jun 2005
Peer Reviewed