Effects of age and illumination on night driving: a road test
Owens, D. Alfred, Wood, Joanne M., & Owens, Justin M. (2007) Effects of age and illumination on night driving: a road test. Human Factors, 49(6), pp. 1115-1131.
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OBJECTIVE: This study investigated the effects of drivers' age and low light on speed, lane keeping, and visual recognition of typical roadway stimuli. BACKGROUND: Poor visibility, which is exacerbated by age-related changes in vision, is a leading contributor to fatal nighttime crashes. There is little evidence, however, concerning the extent to which drivers recognize and compensate for their visual limitations at night. METHOD: Young, middle-aged, and elder participants drove on a closed road course in day and night conditions at a "comfortable" speed without speedometer information. During night tests, headlight intensity was varied over a range of 1.5 log units using neutral density filters. RESULTS: Average speed and recognition of road signs decreased significantly as functions of increased age and reduced illumination. Recognition of pedestrians at night was significantly enhanced by retroreflective markings of limb joints as compared with markings of the torso, and this benefit was greater for middle-aged and elder drivers. Lane keeping showed nonlinear effects of lighting, which interacted with task conditions and drivers' lateral bias, indicating that older drivers drove more cautiously in low light. CONCLUSION: Consistent with the hypothesis that drivers misjudge their visual abilities at night, participants of all age groups failed to compensate fully for diminished visual recognition abilities in low light, although older drivers behaved more cautiously than the younger groups. APPLICATION: These findings highlight the importance of educating all road users about the limitations of night vision and provide new evidence that retroreflective markings of the limbs can be of great benefit to pedestrians' safety at night.
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