Older Adults Are Bad Drivers – Taylor Nolander

Stereotypes can happen to each and every one of us on any given day.  You can be stereotyped for the color of your skin, the way you look, or even just by your chronological age.  Older adults tend to have many stereotypes towards them simply because they grow old.  Yes, old people do in fact decline but doesn’t always mean at a rapid rate.  Some older adults will live to be very old and still be able to talk, express feelings, walk, and much more.  Unfortunately, some do decline at a rapid rate and will lose many senses, that make them incapable of doing obsolete ordinary tasks.  One common stereotype that is often hear/told is that older adults are bad drivers.  Things that could possibly affects one’s ability to drive is their reaction time, their memory, or their hearing.

Being told you aren’t good at something can really harm someone’s self-esteem and have a negative feedback towards the task.  This is called a stereotype threat.  “Stereotype threat is defined as ‘… being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s own group’” (Lambert, 2016).  Imagine being told you weren’t good at something; you probably would perform worse than you would if you weren’t told anything.  A study was conducted on stereotype threats impairing older adult driving.  The study included 60 licensed drivers, ages 62 to 83, it had an even split of gender, 20 were male and 19 were female.  All these participants were with normal or corrected vision.  Out of the 60 participants only 39 people’s data was collected for this study.  The loss of people’s data was due to them experiencing motion sickness to eliminate any error (Lambert, 2016).

The first task was to test their memory of memorizing words while doing a simple math problem.  They were to solve an equation and try and memorize a word then at the end of the set they were asked to recall the words in the correct order.  All of the participants scored an 80% or higher on this task.  The next task was done in 2 sessions, 2 weeks apart.  In the first session the participant’s visual acuity and color blindness were tested, the stereotype threat was told and their ability to drive was assessed.  For session two, their working memory capacity was evaluated to see if they still had the same reaction time while being distracted.  They all received instructions and were trained to follow a lead car with a small following distance which if they fell to far behind a horn would alarm and they would need to get closer to the car.  They also were told to brake every time the lead car braked to test their reaction time.  Next the participants were assigned to be the stereotype threat or the control group.  The stereotype threat was told to the participants in that group that older adults are categorized as bad drivers.  The data examined for this study was the reaction time of those who were told the stereotype threat, compared to those who were not told the threat.  The results showed that those who were informed of the stereotype threat, their brake reaction time decreased because of the reduction of their working memory capacity.  In contrast, to those who weren’t told the threat, their brake reaction time remained constant (Lambert, 2016).  Clearly, the stereotype had influenced the sample group’s driving capabilities, and there may have been some sort of psychological factor that refrained them from extrapolating a constant data set.

The response time of a younger adult compared to an older adult is tremendously different as many would expect.  A study was done to compare the reaction time between two different age groups to see whose would be slower.  There were 27 young adults and 39 older adults who participated, all of them were right handed.  In the first experiment they all used their dominate hand and were asked to press the button or grasp the switch when the stimulus appeared on the computer screen as fast as they could with no audio.  Audio was then added to see if hearing would make their reaction time faster.  They then calculated the error rate on a three-factor analysis: age, response type, and tone.  There was pressing the button with no audio, pressing the button with audio, grasping the switch with no audio and grasping the switch with audio and different colors showing the age difference (Tsuchia, 2013).

The overall mean error rate for older adults were from 2.4% to 8.9% and in contrast the younger adults stayed constantly around 1% for the mean error rate.  Therefore, older adults do in fact have a much slower reaction time than younger adults.  They then performed the same experiment just with the left hand and the results were very similar but with a much higher error rate in both younger and older adults.  Older adults still had a higher percentage of error rate (Tsuchia, 2013).

Cognitive skills and age defect are big factors on determining how well one may be able to drive.  A study was conducted on taxi drives and non-taxi drivers and their ability to drive around.  There were 293 drivers from the age 50 to 70, half taxi drivers, half non-taxi drivers.  They were looking to see if older adults should be out on the road and especially a taxi driver who is responsible for whoever is in their car.  Indeed, the older driver all together had flaws in their driving after being observed by an instructor.  The frontal visual information processing speed of the taxi driver compared to the non-taxi driver was better but still there was an age related decline (Chuang, 2014).  Of course, being a taxi driver they have more experience and drive close to the same routs everyday therefor, they will seem better drivers but there has to be a point where with aging they shouldn’t be responsible for other people life’s.

In older adults, one of the 3 common chronic health conditions that severely affect the age group of 65 and older, is hearing loss.  About 30% of older adults struggle with their own hearing and 70% to 90% are 85 and older.  As one can imagine not being able to hear when people talk to you could make you pretty angry.  Therefore, many older adults experience some sort of depression once they start to lose their hearing.  Not only depression but they will tend to start to isolate themselves and not socialize as much.  This study is one that can’t be done within a week or a couple days.  They had hundreds of participants that were observed over the course of 25 years by just home visits from neurologists.  This study was conducted to see if a loss of hearing will lead to depression and a slow decline in health (Amieva, 2015).

There were a total of 3,670 participants, 137 (4%) with major hearing loss, 1,139 (31%) with moderate hearing loss, and 2,394 (65%) with no hearing troubles at all (Amieve, 2015).  Reports show that people who were male, less educated, and had high depressive symptoms were more likely to have hearing loss.  With any form of hearing loss in older adults their cognitive decline increased dramatically as to those with no hearing loss.  With the help of hearing aids, the cognitive decline was steady as to those without hearing loss (Amieve, 2015).  Therefore, having a depressed and declining adult behind the wheel of a vehicle could cause them to be angry and the worst case scenario try to harm themselves.  Also not having a good sense of hearing can cause an accident if there is a cop or ambulance trying to get by and they may not hear it.

In conclusion, though it is a stereotype, having older adults at the hand of a steering wheel may not be the best idea for their own safety and the safety of others.  As being a care provider for the assisted living, I would never want one of my residents driving.  Being with them for hours upon the day and just seeing how they function with their health, I do not think older—specifically impaired—adults, should not be behind the wheel.  With studies proving that older adult’s reaction time is significantly slower than younger adults, if they needed to slam on the brakes at any given moment their reaction time wouldn’t be fast enough and can cause a serious accident to themselves and others.  Therefore, the stereotype that older adults are bad drivers, is inconclusive in the data, but rather suggests that they do drive with many disadvantages.  There is endless amount of factors that come in to play when making that stereotype a true statement.


Reference Page

Amieva, H., Ouvrard, C., Giulioli, C., Meillon, C., Rullier, L., & Dartigues, J. (2015). Self‐reported hearing loss, hearing aids, and cognitive decline in elderly adults: A 25‐year study. Journal Of The American Geriatrics Society, 63(10), 2099-2104. doi:10.1111/jgs.13649

Chuang, K., Jeng, M., Hsu, C., Doong, J., Lin, C., & Lai, C. (2014). Differences in cognitive process-related skills between taxi and non-taxi drivers between 50 and 70 years old. Perceptual And Motor Skills, 119(1), 100-122. doi:10.2466/22.24.PMS.119c10z8

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

Tsuchida, N., Morikawa, S., Yoshida, H., & Okawa, I. (2013). Motor inhibition in aging: Impacts of response type and auditory stimulus. Journal Of Motor Behavior, 45(4), 343-350. doi:10.1080/00222895.2013.806107


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