And it seems older drivers are the ones most likely to lose control whilst trying to multitask
A group of scientists in Germany have carried out a new investigation into how dangerous it can be for motorists to be distracted whilst behind the wheel and older drivers didn’t fare too well.
According to their findings, around eight in 10 drivers aged from 65 to 75 are the ones most likely to lose control of their vehicle and skid off the road whilst trying to multitask.
It was also found through separate research that there’s many reasons why drivers may be distracted whilst behind the wheel; included in the top 20 results was kissing a partner, stroking a pet and even performing a sexual act!
The team in Germany conducted a controlled distraction study which involved using a computer simulator. They put in opposition young motorists aged between 20 and 30 against older drivers from 65 to 75 years old who all drove a VW Golf on a winding rural route for 25 miles.
As part of the examination, each driver was asked to carry out different tasks whilst driving such as dialling a number in a phone via an in-car entertainment screen or inputting digits on a keypad to depict entering a postcode into a sat nav.
According to the researchers, the differences between the two age groups in their ability to control the car whilst attempting each of the tasks was ‘stark’.
More than three quarters (78%) of the older drivers swerved off the edge of the road and bumped into the kerb, whilst in comparison just 40% of the younger drivers did the same.
Also, around 15% of the older drivers unintentionally drove across the central white line on the road into oncoming traffic, whereas none of the younger drivers did so.
Konstantin Wechsler, lead researcher of the Institute of Physiology and Anatomy at the German Sport University Cologne, said the study has valuable ramifications when it comes to preventing accidents.
“Older participants drove more slowly, more laterally and more variably than young ones, and this age difference was accentuated in the multitask-condition, particularly if the loading task took participants’ gaze and attention away from the road,” Wechsler wrote in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, adding: “Our findings indicate that multitasking deteriorates in older age not only in typical laboratory paradigms, but also in paradigms that require orchestration of dual-tasking and task switching.”
Mr Wechsler also said: “They also indicate that older drivers are at a higher risk of causing an accident when they engage in a task that takes gaze and attention away from the road.”
In total, 124 regular drivers were involved in the study, all of whom were in good physical and mental health and had good eyesight. They were asked to sit in a simulated car and to follow another vehicle in front of them for about 25 minutes.
On the journey, the researchers introduced different distractions such as being asked questions through a headset, braking tasks or were given a three-digit number to type into a keyboard.
Four different sessions were completed by each participant on separate days.
“Our finding could be of substantial relevance for the driving safety of older persons since activities similar to task “type” are quite common in driving: drivers often operate radios, navigation systems and other dashboard instruments, open and close windows, adjust side and rear mirrors, and on longer trips may even reach for drinks and food located elsewhere in the car cabin,” added Wechsler.
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