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U-M leads nationwide study on safety of older drivers

Happy senior couple driving modern car. (stock image)ANN ARBOR—The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute is one of five national test sites selected by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety to address the well-being of older drivers.

Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) is a five-year $12 million project that will allow researchers to better understand the role of physical and cognitive functions, medical conditions, medications and vehicle technologies in driving safety. Researchers will also examine how older drivers self-regulate to avoid difficult driving conditions, and the causes and consequences of driving cessation.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety awarded two separate contracts for the project—one to UMTRI and the other to Columbia University, which funds other test sites in New York, Maryland, Colorado and California.

David Eby, research professor and head of UMTRI's Behavioral Sciences Group, is a co-principal investigator of the overall project, along with Robert Santos of the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. Guohua Li of Columbia University is the principal investigator.

The Michigan site principal investigators are Lisa Molnar, associate research scientist in UMTRI's Behavioral Sciences Group, and Lindsay Ryan, assistant research scientist at the Survey Research Center in the U-M Institute for Social Research.

"Like most people, older adults consider driving to be essential to independence and well-being," Eby said. "With aging, however, comes a higher likelihood of medical conditions that can affect safe driving ability. Thus, it is important for society to both help older adults continue driving for as long as they can safely do so and to help people stay mobile once they have decided to stop driving. This multi-state project will provide much needed information to help us solve this pressing societal issue."

Researchers at U-M, Columbia, Johns Hopkins University, University of California-San Diego, University of Colorado-Denver, the Urban Institute and the Bassett Research Institute will recruit a total of 3,000 active drivers ages 65-79 at five study sites (600 drivers at each site). They will follow these drivers over time through annual assessments and interviews, and will fit each driver's vehicle with a GPS device to learn about their driving patterns.

Eby, Molnar and Ryan will work with Dr. Raymund Yung and Linda Nyquist of the U-M Institute of Gerontology to recruit age-eligible participants from U-M medical clinics.

Each participant's car will be fitted with an automatic data collection device that will record where the vehicle is being driven and some other vehicle-based data. All naturalistic driving data for all sites will be processed at UMTRI by the Behavioral Sciences and Engineering Systems groups.

All participants will engage in a comprehensive assessment of physical, mental and perceptual functioning every two years; have their vehicles visually inspected every other year; complete a questionnaire on health, well-being, attitudes and driving every year; and have all driving trips recorded. The project will also collect medical, crash and driving history records for all participants.

Pilot testing of about 25 drivers will begin at UMTRI in early 2015 and last for three months before the actual study is launched.

 

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