Current evidence suggests that car crashes in cognitively impaired older drivers often occur because of failure to notice other drivers at intersections. We tested whether licensed drivers with mild to moderate cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer disease (AD) are at greater risk for intersection crashes. In this experiment, 30 participants drove on a virtual highway in a simulator scenario where the approach to within 3.6 seconds of an intersection triggered an illegal incursion by another vehicle. To avoid collision with the incurring vehicle, the driver had to perceive, attend to, and interpret the roadway situation; formulate an evasive plan; and then exert appropriate action on the accelerator, brake, or steering controls, all under pressure of time. The results showed that 6 of 18 drivers with AD (33%) experienced crashes versus none of 12 nondemented drivers of similar age. Use of a visual tool that plots control over steering wheel position, brake and accelerator pedals, vehicle speed, and vehicle position during the 5 seconds preceding a crash event showed inattention and control responses that were either inappropriate or too slow. The findings were combined with those in another recent study of collision avoidance in drivers with AD that focused on potential rear end collisions. Predictors of crashes in the combined studies included visuospatial impairment, disordered attention, reduced processing of visual motion cues, and overall cognitive decline. The results help to specify the linkage between decline in certain cognitive domains and increased crash risk in AD and also support the use of high-fidelity simulation and neuropsychologic assessment in an effort to standardize the assessment of fitness to drive in persons with medical impairments.
*College of Medicine, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, U.S.A.; †College of Engineering, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, U.S.A.; ‡Public Policy Center, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, U.S.A.; and §College of Public Health, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, U.S.A.
Received September 1, 1999.
Revised June 2, 2000.
Accepted May 11, 2000.
Address correspondence and reprint requests to Matthew Rizzo, M.D., Division of Behavioral Neurology and Cognitive Neuroscience, Department of Neurology, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City, IA 52242, U.S.A., or firstname.lastname@example.org.