Cognitive function and driving: important for young and old alike

Selena Ledger, Joanne M. Bennett*, Eugene Chekaluk, Jennifer Batchelor

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    24 Citations (Scopus)


    Younger drivers and older drivers have comparably high ‘crash risks’. Research into individual cognitive domains responsible for this high crash risk has been widely investigated in both groups, however research into the examination of overall cognitive functioning for younger drivers is limited. Furthermore, comparative research between the two groups is needed to determine if the same relationships between overall cognitive functioning and driving performance can account for the comparatively high crash risk for both populations. The overall aim of this research was to investigate and compare this relationship in both older and younger drivers. Fifty-two (64.7% female) first year psychology students aged between 17 and 23 years formed a sample of younger drivers. Thirty-nine (34% female) people aged between 63 and 84 years formed a sample of healthy older drivers. Participants were tested on a series of cognitive tests and undertook a drive on a driving simulator. Relationship were found between cognitive functioning (across the domains of attention, executive function, memory, visuospatial skills and mental status) and driving performance for both younger and older drivers, with the pattern of these relationships predominately comparable between the two cohorts. Furthermore, overall cognitive functioning improved the prediction of driving performance over and above age for speeding (ΔR2 = 23.5%), lane deviations (ΔR2 = 18.8%), and overall driving performance (ΔR2 = 22.9%). The findings from the current study provide evidence that cognitive functioning is related to driving performance in a somewhat similar pattern for both younger and older drivers alike. This study provides evidence that overall cognitive functioning predicts driving performance after controlling for age, suggesting that these skills are important for understanding the crash risk for both population groups. In an investigation of parsimonious models, visuospatial ability (p <.01) and mental status (p <.05) were found to predict speeding, and executive function (p <.05) was found to predict lane deviation over and above age. The parsimonious model found that attention, visuospatial skills, and mental status (all p <.05) were predictive of overall driving performance over and above age. Together, these findings warrants further investigation of the role that cognitive functioning plays in driving performance regardless of age, with a move towards a single model for cognitive function and driving performance for both population groups.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)262-273
    Number of pages12
    JournalTransportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


    • cognitive functioning
    • driving
    • older drivers
    • younger drivers


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