Brighter lights on roads at night may make older drivers less cautious: Ryerson study

    TORONTO, May 28 /CNW/ - Older drivers tend to be less cautious behind the
wheel when roadways are slightly more illuminated, according to a study
released today by Ryerson University researchers.
    "This finding took us by surprise," says Maureen Reed, a Ryerson
psychology professor specializing in vision science and lead author of the
study, which was funded by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.
    The ministry approached Reed, Professor Said Easa of Ryerson's Department
of Civil Engineering and psychology Professor Frank Russo a year ago to study
whether slightly increasing the light intensity on Ontario highways would
improve older drivers' performance on roads.
    "No one has studied older drivers' driving behaviour and performance at
night before in great detail, despite the fact that this is the fastest
growing group of drivers in the province," says the study's co-author Easa,
who has published numerous papers on road safety. Drivers who are 60 years and
older make up 13 per cent of Ontario's licensed drivers.
    The researchers surveyed the night-time driving habits of 219 older
adults 60 years and older from Ryerson's LIFE Institute, a G. Raymond Chang
School of Continuing Education program promoting lifelong learning for
seniors. They also tested the visual and cognitive abilities of a second group
of 97 adults, ranging from 19 to 84 years, to assess their depth perception
and ability to process information among other skills critical to driving
safely in dim light. These adults also described their night-time driving
experiences. Finally, 75 drivers of that group took a road test in Ryerson's
driving simulator lab to test their driving performance: first under light
conditions typical of Ontario roads at night, then at a slightly brighter
    Older drivers from the second group were able to see information signs
and respond faster during the road simulation test when the highway was more
brightly lit. Survey data showed that many seniors often miss signs on roads
while driving at night, which causes them problems in finding their way, among
other traffic issues.
    However, all drivers, including seniors, became less cautious under
brighter road conditions. They exceeded the speed limit and drove onto the
shoulder of the highway more often. Older adults also were less accurate and
precise in following road curves.
    Reed suggests that older drivers may pay less attention to their driving
under brighter driving conditions. "In the lower light situation, they are
slowing down and driving more carefully because they are having difficulty
seeing objects and processing what's going on. With the higher light
intensity, they felt they didn't need to be as attentive."
    The researchers also found that older drivers who rarely drove or avoided
driving at night were less accurate and braked faster when they were driving
with more light. They were also more cautious and stayed within their lanes
more often under low light conditions. Overall, they found that participants
who reported they drove less frequently, or avoided driving all together, had
the most driving problems at night.
    "There has been some research that suggests older adults can drive as
well as their younger counterparts because they are regular drivers," says
Reed. "It is important for older drivers who avoid driving at night to
practice this activity under safe conditions, especially since they rely on
their cars to keep their independence and get around."
    Easa recommends that lighting should be only increased around highway
signs to help older drivers see this information and have time to react more
quickly. However, he says the light intensity should remain unchanged in other
areas of roads and highways, including areas that require extra caution such
as around curves.

    Contact Suelan Toye, Public Affairs, to arrange an interview with the
    researchers or schedule a demonstration of the road test.

    To download a video of a demonstration of the road test and researchers
    discussing the study's findings, go to:

    Ryerson University is Canada's leader in innovative career-focused
education, offering close to 90 PhD, master's, and undergraduate programs in
the Faculty of Arts; the Faculty of Communication & Design; the Faculty of
Community Services; the Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Science; and
the Ted Rogers School of Management. Ryerson University has graduate and
undergraduate enrolment of 26,500 students. With more than 68,000
registrations annually, The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education is
Canada's leading provider of university-based adult education.

For further information:

For further information: Suelan Toye, Public Affairs, Ryerson
University, Office: (416) 979-5000 x 7161,

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