Older drivers overlook streetside pedestrians almost twice as often as younger drivers

Older drivers may have a breadth of driving experience working for them behind the wheel. But a new study finds they tend to have a narrower field of vision than younger drivers and often miss developments on the curb or sidewalk that could demand their attention.

The study, published online Monday by the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention, found that drivers over 65 were half as likely to notice pedestrians near or moving toward the street as were experienced drivers between the ages of 28 and 45. Placing the two groups of drivers in a simulator and in front of videos taken from a driver’s eye view (see some video here), researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev found that older drivers took longer to respond to road hazards as well. And compared to younger drivers simulating a drive through a variety of streetscapes, those over 65 tapped on their brakes in response to a “roadside hazard” about half as often, suggesting either that they did not see it or that they did not consider it something they needed to attend to.

The good news (unless you’re driving behind one of these motor vehicle operators and you’re late for an appointment) is that the older drivers drive more slowly -- about 20% more slowly -- perhaps to compensate for shortcomings in their peripheral vision and attention.

“The notion that elderly drivers do not consider pedestrians as hazards is disturbing,” wrote lead author Shani Bromberg of Ben-Gurion’s department of industrial engineering and management. Pedestrians who were not in an older driver’s central field of vision often went unnoticed, the authors noted. By the time they were, the authors add, “this may be too late.” In addition to the safety implications for pedestrians, Bromberg and her colleagues suggested that public works departments consider placing important signage in or closer to drivers’ central field of vision so that older drivers don’t miss their messages.

Diminished notice of or attention to items in peripheral vision is a well-documented effect of aging. It is a skill that a growing number of brain games, including one called Lumosity, seek explicitly to sharpen. The Ben-Gurion researchers undertook the study because Israeli drivers over 65 have been involved in a steadily rising rate of accidents involving pedestrians since 1999.