This research brief examines the direct effects of driving comfort on self-regulation and the role of driving comfort combined with age, sex, and perceived abilities in predicting four of the most common self-regulatory driving situations.
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This research brief used data from the AAA Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) study to examine the role of driving comfort in the self-regulation of driving by older adults. Self-regulation is the process by which individuals modify or adjust their driving patterns by driving less, or intentionally avoiding situations considered challenging. The process of self-regulation is complex and a myriad of individual factors influence it, including age, sex, and perceived driving-related abilities (Molnar et al., 2018). However, one of the most consistent findings in the literature has been that drivers’ confidence, or referred to here as comfort, in specific driving situations are closely related to their likelihood to self-regulating their driving (Molnar et al., 2015).
The purpose of this study was to examine the direct effects of driving comfort on self-regulation and the role of driving comfort combined with age, sex, and perceived abilities in predicting four of the most common self-regulatory driving situations: driving at night, during rush hour traffic, on the freeway, and in unfamiliar areas. Results of this study indicate that all variables examined, both alone and in combination, generally predicted driving in the four situations. Most significantly, this study confirms that perceived driving comfort influences older adults’ driving behaviors in several driving situations often considered challenging and subject to self-regulation. Understanding driving comfort is important because, unlike fixed demographic characteristics, comfort is something that can potentially be influenced through education and training.
Data came from 2,792 participants in the AAA LongROAD study (Li et al., 2017). LongROAD is a multisite prospective cohort study of drivers enrolled in five study sites in the U.S. (Ann Arbor, MI; Baltimore, MD; Cooperstown, NY; Denver, CO; and San Diego, CA). Study participants were 65-79 years of age at enrollment. AAA LongROAD followed procedures described in previous research (Molnar et al., 2013). Data for this study were collected from questionnaires assessing various aspects of driving and functioning and from GPS/datalogger, devices assessing actual driving behaviors. Questionnaire items were assessed at a single point in time at baseline, but the objective data were collected continuously throughout the study. To account for differences in exposure and seasonality, the analysis only included participants’ first 12 months of driving, with the GPS variables averaged across the 12-month period.
The independent variables examined in this analysis included age, sex, perceived driving-related abilities, and self-reported driving comfort in four situations commonly avoided as part of self-regulation – driving at night, in rush hour traffic, on the freeway, and in unfamiliar areas.
Perceived driving-related abilities were measured through the following items (with each rated from 1 being poor to 7 being excellent):
For this analysis, we used the mean rating of these five ratings as a measure of average perceived driving-related ability.
Self-reported driving comfort, in the four driving situations of interest, was measured on a 7-point scale (1 – not at all comfortable; 7 – completely comfortable). The dependent variables examined in the analysis included objective measures of the four driving situations using data from a data logger installed in the vehicle (with rush hour traffic broken out into AM and PM peak traffic).
Results indicated that perceived driving comfort influences older adults’ driving in several driving situations often considered challenging and subject to self-regulation.
We consider perceived driving comfort to be central to a sound understanding of self-regulation among older adults, and strategies for keeping them safely mobile. An important benefit of continued research on perceived driving comfort is that it may serve as an indication of declines in abilities that can compromise safe driving. It is likely that many older drivers who are not able to recognize the fact that their driving-related abilities have declined, are nevertheless able to recognize that they no longer feel comfortable in certain driving situations that have become more challenging to them.
Further analyses should include other factors that may play an important role in other driving contexts, such as the employment status of participants (still working versus being retired), having someone who depends on them for rides, having someone available to provide transportation, and/or objectively measured functional abilities. These additional variables may contribute to changes in driving because of self-regulation (e.g., declines in abilities) or simply changes in lifestyle (e.g., retiring from work).