Vision, functional and cognitive determinants of motor vehicle incidents in older drivers

Stavrou, Eftyhia P. (2006) Vision, functional and cognitive determinants of motor vehicle incidents in older drivers. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Background: The proportion of older individuals in the driving population is predicted to increase in the next 50 years. This has important implications for driving safety as abilities which are important for safe driving, such as vision (which accounts for the majority of the sensory input required for driving), processing ability and cognition have been shown to decline with age. The current methods employed for screening older drivers upon re-licensure are also vision based. This study, which investigated social, behavioural and professional aspects involved with older drivers, aimed to determine: (i) if the current visual standards in place for testing upon re-licensure are effective in reducing the older driver fatality rate in Australia; (ii) if the recommended visual standards are actually implemented as part of the testing procedures by Australian optometrists; and (iii) if there are other non-standardised tests which may be better at predicting the on-road incident-risk (including near misses and minor incidents) in older drivers than those tests recommended in the standards.

Methods: For the first phase of the study, state-based age- and gender-stratified numbers of older driver fatalities for 2000-2003 were obtained from the Australian Transportation Safety Bureau database. Poisson regression analyses of fatality rates were considered by renewal frequency and jurisdiction (as separate models), adjusting for possible confounding variables of age, gender and year.

For the second phase, all practising optometrists in Australia were surveyed on the vision tests they conduct in consultations relating to driving and their knowledge of vision requirements for older drivers.

Finally, for the third phase of the study to investigate determinants of on-road incident risk, a stratified random sample of 600 Brisbane residents aged 60 years and were selected and invited to participate using an introductory letter explaining the project requirements. In order to capture the number and type of road incidents which occurred for each participant over 12 months (including near misses and minor incidents), an important component of the prospective research study was the development and validation of a driving diary. The diary was a tool in which incidents that occurred could be logged at that time (or very close in time to which they occurred) and thus, in comparison with relying on participant memory over time, recall bias of incident occurrence was minimised. Association between all visual tests, cognition and scores obtained for non-standard functional tests with retrospective and prospective incident occurrence was investigated.

Results: In the first phase,rivers aged 60-69 years had a 33% lower fatality risk (Rate Ratio [RR] = 0.75, 95% CI 0.32-1.77) in states with vision testing upon re-licensure compared with states with no vision testing upon re-licensure, however, because the CIs are wide, crossing 1.00, this result should be regarded with caution. However, overall fatality rates and fatality rates for those aged 70 years and older (RR=1.17, CI 0.64-2.13) did not differ between states with and without license renewal procedures, indicating no apparent benefit in vision testing legislation.

For the second phase of the study, nearly all optometrists measured visual acuity (VA) as part of a vision assessment for re-licensing, however, 20% of optometrists did not perform any visual field (VF) testing and only 20% routinely performed automated VF on older drivers, despite the standards for licensing advocating automated VF as part of the vision standard. This demonstrates the need for more effective communication between the policy makers and those responsible for carrying out the standards. It may also indicate that the overall higher driver fatality rate in jurisdictions with vision testing requirements is resultant as the tests recommended by the standards are only partially being conducted by optometrists. Hence a standardised protocol for the screening of older drivers for re-licensure across the nation must be established.

The opinions of Australian optometrists with regard to the responsibility of reporting older drivers who fail to meet the licensing standards highlighted the conflict between maintaining patient confidentiality or upholding public safety. Mandatory reporting requirements of those drivers who fail to reach the standards necessary for driving would minimise potential conflict between the patient and their practitioner, and help maintain patient trust and goodwill.

The final phase of the PhD program investigated the efficacy of vision, functional and cognitive tests to discriminate between at-risk and safe older drivers. Nearly 80% of the participants experienced an incident of some form over the prospective 12 months, with the total incident rate being 4.65/10 000 km. Sixty-three percent reported having a near miss and 28% had a minor incident.
The results from the prospective diary study indicate that the current vision screening tests (VA and VF) used for re-licensure do not accurately predict older drivers who are at increased odds of having an on-road incident. However, the variation in visual measurements of the cohort was narrow, also affecting the results seen with the visual functon questionnaires. Hence a larger cohort with greater variability should be considered for a future study. A slightly lower cognitive level (as measured with the Mini-Mental State Examination [MMSE]) did show an association with incident involvement as did slower reaction time (RT), however the Useful-Field-of-View (UFOV) provided the most compelling results of the study. Cut-off values of UFOV processing (>23.3ms), divided attention (>113ms), selective attention (>258ms) and overall score (moderate/ high/ very high risk) were effective in determining older drivers at increased odds of having any on-road incident and the occurrence of minor incidents.

Discussion: The results have shown that for the 60-69 year age-group, there is a potential benefit in testing vision upon licence renewal. However, overall fatality rates and fatality rates for those aged 70 years and older indicated no benefit in vision testing legislation and suggests a need for inclusion of screening tests which better predict on-road incidents.

Although VA is routinely performed by Australian optometrists on older drivers renewing their licence, VF is not. Therefore there is a need for a protocol to be developed and administered which would result in standardised methods conducted throughout the nation for the screening of older drivers upon re-licensure. Communication between the community, policy makers and those conducting the protocol should be maximised. By implementing a standardised screening protocol which incorporates a level of mandatory reporting by the practitioner, the ethical dilemma of breaching patient confidentiality would also be resolved.

The tests which should be included in this screening protocol, however, cannot solely be ones which have been implemented in the past. In this investigation, RT, MMSE and UFOV were shown to be better determinants of on-road incidents in older drivers than VA and VF, however, as previously mentioned, there was a lack of variability in visual status within the cohort. Nevertheless, it is the recommendation from this investigation, that subject to appropriate sensitivity and specificity being demonstrated in the future using a cohort with wider variation in vision, functional performance and cognition, these tests of cognition and information processing should be added to the current protocol for the screening of older drivers which may be conducted at licensing centres across the nation.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 28503
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Wood, Joanne, Battistutta, Diana, & Pye, David
Keywords: older drivers, incidents, near miss, driving diary, licensure, optometrists, mandatory reporting, fatality rates, vision, cognition, UFOV, reaction time, hazard perception, functional questionnaire
Divisions: Past > Research Centres > Centre for Health Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 09 Nov 2009 00:19
Last Modified: 22 Jun 2017 14:41

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