Age, skill, and hazard perception in driving

Road hazard is any object, situation, occurrence or combination of these that introduce the possibility of the individual road user to experience harm (see Hawarth, Symmons & Kowadlo, 2000).

Hazard Perception (HP) is the ability to read the road (Mills, Hall, McDonald & Rolls, 1988) or situation awareness for dangerous situations (Horswill & Mckenna, 2004).

HP is a skill that improves with driving experience. Experienced drivers have a more holistic perception of the traffic environment. They adjust their eye scanning patterns to the characteristics of the traffic environment and they detect more hazards than young-inexperienced drivers. Young-inexperienced drivers (with few months of driving experience) have an impoverished knowledge base which causes them to pay more attention to unimportant details, and to scan the road less efficiently. With regard to elderly drivers, some studies have shown that unlike other driving-related skills, HP does not diminish over the years, since it is based on accumulated experience and schemata.

We used a video observation technique and showed that elderly drivers identified more hazards than experienced drivers, thereby supporting the claim that hazard perception does not diminish over time. However, in some cases they identify hazards later than experienced drivers. Thus, elderly drivers may identify the hazard (e.g., an intersection) at the same time as the experienced driver, but have slower physical reaction time or, more likely, project the hazards based on their own driving behavior which often consists of slower driving speeds than the obtained driving speed in the video-based scenarios.

To read more see our recent article: Age, skill, and hazard perception in driving Accident Analysis & Prevention, Volume 42, Issue 4, July 2010, Pages 1240-1249. Avinoam Borowsky, David Shinar, Tal Oron-Gilad


This study examined the effects of age and driving experience on the ability to detect hazards while driving; namely, hazard perception. Studies have shown that young-inexperienced drivers are more likely than experienced drivers to suffer from hazard perception deficiencies. However, it remains to be determined if this skill deteriorates with advancing age. Twenty-one young-inexperienced, 19 experienced, and 16 elderly drivers viewed six hazard perception movies while connected to an eye tracking system and were requested to identify hazardous situations. Four movies embedded planned, highly hazardous, situations and the rest were used as control. Generally, experienced and older-experienced drivers were equally proficient at hazard detection and detected potentially hazardous events (e.g., approaching an intersection, pedestrians on curb) continuously whereas young-inexperienced drivers stopped reporting on hazards that followed planned, highly hazardous situations. Moreover, while approaching T intersections older and experienced drivers fixated more towards the merging road on the right while young-inexperienced drivers fixated straight ahead, paying less attention to potential vehicles on the merging road. The study suggests that driving experience improves drivers’ awareness of potential hazards and guides drivers’ eye movements to locations that might embed potential risks. Furthermore, advanced age hardly affects older drivers’ ability to perceive hazards, and older drivers are at least partially aware of their age-related limitations.

Eye scanning patterns obtained from elderly-experienced (red), experienced (green) and young-inexperienced (blue) drivers are shown in the pictures below. The more experienced drivers tend to concentrate on the merging road on the right. Young drivers focus closer and more to the left.


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