Conference Proceeding

Driving Simulator Performance Across the Lifespan: A Preliminary Study

  • Thomas D Marcotte (University of California, San Diego)
  • Theodore Rosenthal (University of California, San Diego)
  • Erica Roberts (University of California, San Diego)
  • J Cobb Scott (University of California, San Diego)
  • Rachel Meyer (University of California, San Diego)
  • R Wade Allen (University of California, San Diego)


OBJECTIVES Normal aging is associated with decline in abilities that may put an individual at increased riskfor a crash. Older individuals may have slowed processing speed and motor responses, a reduceduseful field of view (Ball et al., 1988), and greater difficulty with mental rotation (Armstrong etal., 1998). Although collision rates increase with age (Transportation Research Board, 1988), ithas been argued that specific age-related functional impairments, and not age itself, put one atrisk (Ball & Owsley, 2003). The goal of this study was to examine the relationship betweenaging and performance on driving simulations assessing specific components of driving—accident avoidance, divided attention, and navigation—and the degree to which they predict onroaddriving performance.METHODSForty control drivers (age 22 to 84; < 50 yo, n = 14; 50-70 yo, n = 13; and > 70 yo, n = 13)completed 3 simulations and an on-road driving evaluation. Exclusion criteria includedneurologic confounds, substance use and psychiatric disorders, as well as abnormalneuropsychological performance (based upon demographically-corrected norms). Thesimulations were presented on a Pentium III PC computer using a 17” monitor at 1280 x 1024resolution, and running STISIM Drive version 2.0 software (Systems Technology, Inc.;Hawthorne, CA). Hardware included a steering wheel, turn signal, and brake/accelerator pedals.The simulations consisted of 1) Advanced Routine and Emergency Driving (ARED), a 15-minute route simulating city/country driving, in which drivers must obey traffic signs, pass cars,and respond to high-risk crash scenarios; 2) Virtual City (VC), in which drivers must navigate toand from a location in a 5 x 5 block simulated city, and 3) Divided Attention, in which driversare to maintain a constant speed and lane position while responding to divided attention tasks inthe corner of the monitor. Participants also completed a 35-minute on-road assessment. Lastly,participants were assessed on a battery of neuropsychological tests. Earlier versions of thesimulations were predictive of on-road driving performance in an HIV-infected cohort (Marcotteet al., 2004). RESULTSThe three groups performed similarly on ARED (crashes, speeding tickets), as well as on the VCtask when the map was oriented to the same direction as the participant. On the other hand, olderparticipants had significantly more difficulty navigating when their orientation on the map wasreversed (e.g., the < 50 group took 1.2 blocks beyond optimum to return from the destination; the50-70 and > 70 years old groups took approximately 7.5 blocks). The three groups performedsimilarly with respect to lane deviation on the Divided Attention task, but the older groups hadincreased variability in speed maintenance, and the oldest group failed to respond to a greaternumber of divided attention stimuli (< 50 yo = .3 (.83), 50-70 yo = 1.0 (1.3), > 70 yo = 3.6 (2.7)).Although only one participant failed the on-road drive (50-70 yo), the percent of driversconsidered marginal or worse increased with age (7% vs. 25% vs. 55%). In a logistic regression,the simulator variables that best discriminated safe vs. marginal on-road came from the DividedAttention task: the number of missed stimuli and speed deviation, both of which require an intactuseful field of view and the shifting of gaze away from the roadway. Age did not enter into amodel that included these variables.CONCLUSIONSIn this study of normal, healthy controls, older participants drove similarly to young-to-middleaged participants on a simulation that most closely approximated real driving. Consistent withcognitive declines seen in normal aging, older participants had greater difficulty on a taskrequiring navigating when map orientation was reversed (perhaps indicative of impairedegocentric spatial abilities), as well as on a measure of driving-related divided attention, witholder participants appearing to allocate more attention to the roadway at the cost of attending andresponding to peripheral cues. Although older drivers had more difficulty during the on-road test,these difficulties were a function of deficits in the ability to divide attention efficiently, ratherthan aging per se.REFERENCESArmstrong, C.L., & Cloud, B. (1998). The emergence of spatial rotation deficits in dementia andnormal aging. Neuropsychology, 12(2), 208-217.Ball, K.K., Beard, B.L., Roenker, D.L., Miller, R.L., & Griggs, D.S. (1988). Age and visualsearch: Expanding the useful field of view. J Opt Soc Am A, 5(12), 2210-2219.Ball, K., & Owsley, C. (2003). Driving competence: It's not a matter of age. J Am Geriatr Soc,51(10), 1499-1501.Marcotte, T.D., Wolfson, T., Rosenthal, T.J., Heaton, R.K., Gonzalez, R., Ellis, R.J., et al.(2004). A multimodal assessment of driving performance in HIV infection. Neurology, 63(8),1417-1422.Transportation Research Board. (1988). Transportation in an Aging Society, Vol 1. Washington,D.C.: National Research Council.

How to Cite:

Marcotte, T. & Rosenthal, T. & Roberts, E. & Scott, J. & Meyer, R. & Allen, R., (2007) “Driving Simulator Performance Across the Lifespan: A Preliminary Study”, Driving Assessment Conference 4(2007), 174-175. doi:

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Published on
10 Jul 2007
Peer Reviewed