Are Older Adults Actually Bad Drivers? By Bailey Lenart


In today’s society we are constantly surrounded by misconceptions of older adults. Stereotypes of aging can often be the basis for the concept of ageism: discrimination against older adults based on their age, which comes forth due to the myths of aging. Some popular stereotypes of older adults include being stubborn, grumpy, boring, forgetful and demented, and weak. Although some aspects of these stereotypes may be relevant in older adults, one stereotype that seems to be discussed frequently and often times more controversial is older adults are poor drivers. Different components of aging contribute to this stereotype and will be discussed in this research. The following research supports characteristics of this stereotype and explains that there is a deeper reasoning to why some older adults driving abilities decline.


Lambert et al. (2016) investigated performance implications surrounding the stereotype of older adults having poor driving abilities. The researchers suggest stereotypes have the ability to harm human performance, particularly in individuals that have a diminished working memory capacity (WMC). The participants, recruited from the Salt Lake City community, consisted of sixty licensed, older adult drivers that had normal or corrected-to-normal vision. The study was done at the Cognitive Science Lab at the University of Utah, using a driving simulator and a two-group, between-participants design-threat versus control method. From the 60 participants, only data from 39 were collected in the sample for analysis due to exclusion for reasons such as motion sickness and complications reaching the gas and brake pedals. Though the attrition rate of 35% is high, it is similar to various studies with driving simulations and older adults. Twenty participants were male and 19 were female with the mean age of 72.54. The driving simulator recreated realistic driving environments while an operation span task (OSPAN) measured individual variances in WMC by asking participants to memorize words while synchronously solving math problems. Participants were to solve the equation and memorize the word from the math/word pair and at the end of each stimulus, asked to say words in the exact serial order. Visual awareness and color blindness were evaluated, stereotype threat was manipulated, and driving performance was measure, in Session 1. Session 2 evaluated WMC using the OSPAN task. Results demonstrated that older adult drivers with a lower WMC had slower brake reaction times (RT) and longer following distances. It can be concluded that the interaction of WMC and stereotype threat of brake RT and following distance powerfully supports the idea that stereotype threats where the individuals has a low WMC are likely to be impacted by the stereotype threat (Lambert et al., 2016).

Older adult drivers are thought to be dangerous and excessively cautious by other drivers (Joanisse, Gagnon, & Voloaca, 2012). Joanisse, Gagnon, and Voloaca (2012), assessed the hypothesis of the negative stereotype having a direct influence on the performance of older drivers. Sixty-one drivers ages 65 and older participated in a simulated driving test course. Prior to the assessment, half of the participants were instructed that the objective of the study was to explore the reasons older adults aged 65 and above were more associated with on-road accidents (Stereotype Threat condition) while the other half were told a neutral statement. Results showed older adults made more driving mistakes when exposed to the threat than the control group. This study, alike the prior one, confirmed that the threat dramatically impacted driving performance (Joanisse, Gagnon, & Voloaca, 2012).

Research by Chapman, Sargent-Cox, Horswill, and Anstey (2014), studied the effect of age-stereotype threat on older adults’ performance on a task measuring hazard perception performance while driving. Participants consisted of 86 adults between ages 65 and 86, who were prescreened for dementia and visual impairment. Each filled out a questionnaire on demographic information, driving experience, self-rated health, driving importance, and driving confidence. Participants experienced either negative or positive age stereotypes before doing a timed hazard perception task. Although results showed no influence on hazard perception performance, age-stereotype threats drastically decreased post-driving confidence when compared with pre-driving confidence for the negative prime group (Chapman, Sargent-Cox, Horswill, & Anstey, 2014). This research builds on the previous studies in this paper as it, too, confirms that age-stereotype threats have an impact on older adults’ driving.

Not only does the age-stereotype threat have a negative influence on older adults driving. Visual attention problems are also a predictor of poor driving in older drivers. Ball, Owsley, Sloane, Roenker, and Bruni (2017) completed research in order to identify visual factors that are considerably linked with increased vehicle crashes with older adults. The participants studied were 294 licensed drivers, aged 55 to 90 years old, and living in Jefferson Country, Alabama. The sample was stratified with regard to age and crash regularity throughout the 5-year period before the test date. Variables considered and measured were eye health, visual sensory function, size of the useful field of view, and cognitive status. The Alabama Department of Public Safety provided crash data. Results from the study demonstrated that the older adults with a plentiful decline in the useful field of view were six times more prone to have experienced one or more crashes within the prior 5-years. Some variables were found to have a strong correlation with crashes such as eye health status, visual sensory function, cognitive status, and chronological age. However, these correlations were rather insignificant when it came to distinguishing between crash-involved versus crash-free drivers (Ball, Owsley, Sloane, Roenker, & Bruni, 2017).


From these empirical articles, it is obvious that the stereotype threat negatively affects older adults driving, making them fall into the stereotype of being a poor driver. In the first research discussed, Lambert et al. (2016) suggests that the stereotype threat has a powerful negative influence on human performance, especially those with a diminished WMC. The study supported this claim since the older adults with a low WMC had a slow brake RT and longer following distances. The second piece of research also supports the idea of stereotype threats having a direct negative influence on older adults driving performance. The research from Chapman, Sargent-Cox, Horswill, and Anstey (2014) claimed their participants showed no influence on hazard perception performance, but age-stereotype threats drastically declined post-driving confidence, connecting back to the prior studies discussed. Although the stereotype threat is a large part of why older adults fall into this stereotype of bad driving, visual attention problems can also be a predictor of poor driving in older adults. A large component of driving is vision, which declines with age, so along with the stereotype threat this could also contribute to the creation of this stereotype.




Ball, K., Owsley, C., Sloane, M., Roenker, D., & Bruni, J. (2017). Visual attention problems as a predictor of vehicle crashes in older adults. PubMed, 34(11), 3110-23.

Chapman, L., Sargent-Cox, K., Horswill, M., & Anstey, K. (2016). The impact of age stereotypes on older adults’ hazard perception performance and driving confidence. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 35(6), 642-652.

Joanisse, M., Gagnon, S., & Voloaca, M. (2013). The impact of stereotype threat on the simulated driving performance of older drivers. Accident Analysis And Prevention, 50530-538.doi:10.1016/j.aap.2012.05.032.

Lambert, A. E., Watson, J. M., Stefanucci, J. K., Ward, N., Bakdash, J. Z., & Strayer, D. L. (2016). Stereotype threat impair older adult driving. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 30(1), 22-28.doi:10.1002/acp.3162


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