Examining Physiological Responses Across Different Driving Maneuvers During an On-road Driving Task: A Pilot Study Comparing Older and Younger Drivers

<p><b>Objective:</b> This pilot study aimed to investigate physiological responses during an on-road driving task for older and younger drivers.</p> <p><b>Methods:</b> Five older drivers (mean age = 74.60 years [2.97]) and 5 younger drivers (mean age = 30.00 years [3.08]) completed a series of cognitive assessments (Montreal Cognitive Assessment [MoCA], Mini Mental Status Examination [MMSE]; Trail Making Test [Trails A and Trails B]) and an on-road driving task along a predetermined, standardized urban route in their own vehicle. Driving performance was observed and scored by a single trained observer using a standardized procedure, where driving behaviors (appropriate and inappropriate) were scored for intersection negotiation, lane changing, and merging. During the on-road driving task, participants’ heart rate (HR) was monitored with an unobtrusive physiological monitor.</p> <p><b>Results:</b> Younger drivers performed significantly better on all cognitive assessments compared to older drivers (MoCA: <i>t</i>(8) = 3.882, <i>P</i> <.01; MMSE: <i>t</i>(8) = 2.954, <i>P</i> <.05; Trails A: <i>t</i>(8) = −2.499, <i>P</i> <.05; Trails B: <i>t</i>(8) = −3.262, <i>P</i> <.05). Analyses of participants’ performance during the on-road driving task revealed a high level of appropriate overall driving behavior (M = 87%, SD = 7.62, range = 73–95%), including intersection negotiation (M = 89%, SD = 8.37%), lane changing (M = 100%), and merging (M = 53%, SD = 28.28%). The overall proportion of appropriate driving behavior did not significantly differ across age groups (younger drivers: M = 87.6%, SD = 9.04; older drivers: M = 87.0%, SD = 6.96; <i>t</i>(8) = 0.118, <i>P</i> =.91).</p> <p><b>Conclusions:</b> Although older drivers scored lower than younger drivers on the cognitive assessments, there was no indication of cognitive overload among older drivers based on HR response to the on-road driving task. The results provide preliminary evidence that mild age-related cognitive impairment may not pose a motor vehicle crash hazard for the wider older driver population. To maintain safe mobility of the aging population, further research into the specific crash risk factors in the older driver population is warranted.</p>