Purpose: To identify visual factors that are significantly associated with increased vehicle crashes in older drivers.
Methods: Several aspects of vision and visual information processing were assessed in 294 drivers aged 55 to 90 years. The sample was stratified with respect to age and crash frequency during the 5-year period before the test date. Variables assessed included eye health status, visual sensory function, the size of the useful field of view, and cognitive status. Crash data were obtained from state records.
Results: The size of the useful field of view, a test of visual attention, had high sensitivity (89%) and specificity (81%) in predicting which older drivers had a history of crash problems. This level of predictability is unprecedented in research on crash risk in older drivers. Older adults with substantial shrinkage in the useful field of view were six times more likely to have incurred one or more crashes in the previous 5-year period. Eye health status, visual sensory function, cognitive status, and chronological age were significantly correlated with crashes, but were relatively poor at discriminating between crash-involved versus crash-free drivers.
Conclusions: This study suggests that policies that restrict driving privileges based solely on age or on common stereotypes of age-related declines in vision and cognition are scientifically unfounded. With the identification of a visual attention measure highly predictive of crash problems in the elderly, this study points to a way in which the suitability of licensure in the older adult population could be based on objective, performance-based criteria.