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Activity Level, Performance and Exposure Among Older Drivers
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    Final Report
  • Abstract:
    This project explored the relationship between the fitness of older people – operationalized through multiple measures of physical activity level and cognitive status – and their driving performance and exposure. A certified driver rehabilitation specialist conducted on-road evaluations for a study sample (n=67; mean age=78.6) recruited from senior residential communities in the vicinity of Chapel Hill, NC. GPS and video recorders installed in study participants’ own vehicles collected naturalistic driving data for approximately one month. Functional status assessments included measures of head/neck/torso flexibility; lower limb strength, balance, and proprioception; visual search with divided attention; and executive function. Activity levels were gauged through the Phone-FITT questionnaire; the VO2max questionnaire and body measurements; and a pedometer that participants wore around their ankle for a month to record active minutes per day, steps per day, gait speed, and daily distance. Because of their complementary nature, the physical activity measures were combined into a single, continuous scale ranging from 1 (lowest level of physical activity) to 100 (highest level of activity), termed the Unified Physical Activity Index (UPAI). Subsequent correlations between UPAI scores and road test scores (operational, tactical, strategic, and total) showed that, while higher physical activity levels generally were associated with better road test performance, in all cases relationships were very weak, accounting for less than 3% of the variance in the performance evaluations. Similarly, UPAI scores failed to account for more than 1.5% of the variance in multiple measures of trip frequency, distance, or time, or of scanning behavior as characterized by frequency of side glances and over-the-shoulder checks. Correlations between functional status measures and performance and exposure also were very weak; the strongest (inverse) relationships, accounting for about 5% of variance, were between head/neck flexibility and shoulder checks per minute and between trails B score and minutes of driving per day. Logistic regression found that Trails B and Snellgrove Maze Test scores significantly predicted pass/fail outcomes on the road test, and a multiple regression model relating trails B (and other variables) to driving minutes per day indicated that the trails B relationship was statistically significant.
  • Content Notes:
    Staplin, L., Lococo, K. H., Gish, K. W., Stutts, J., & Srinivasan, R. (2019, September). Activity level, performance and exposure among older drivers (Report No. DOT HS 812 734). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
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