Using Eye Tracking Technology To Compare Hazard Detection On Road Versus Driving Simulator At Night Across Two Age Groups
Rationale: Though previous literature exists that demonstrates the validity of using driving simulation compared to on-road driving, few studies have examined hazard detection between two driving conditions. Even fewer studies have specifically examined hazard detection at night. Results of current research regarding age differences in driving is inconclusive, and night driving is an under-researched area. Purpose: This study sought to analyze the visual components of night driving for older adults. Eye tracking technology and driving simulation were combined to analyze on-road scanning behavior, visual attention, glance patterns, and hazard detection. Research questions sought to determine if there were significant differences in hazard detection between: 1) on-road and simulated drives, 2) older adults and younger adults, or any interaction effect. Design: This quasi-experimental study used a 2x2 repeated-measures factorial design and examined comparisons between two age groups (older adults v. younger adults) and across two driving situations (on-road v. simulated). Driving conditions were counterbalanced. Participants: Participants included 16 older drivers (65+ years) and 17 younger drivers (20-40 yeras). All participants were healthy, community-living adults obtained through convenience sampling. Methods: Instruments included wearable Tobii Pro eye tracking glasses which tracked and recorded pupil glances, a STISIM driving simulator, and each participant’s personal vehicle. In both the on-road and simulated conditions, a pedestrian “hazard” stood at three locations. Pedestrians stared at their cell phone and appeared to cross the street, though they did not actually walk. Outcomes examined from the eye tracking recordings in the Tobii Pro Analysis software included total fixation duration, fixation count, and time to first fixation. Analysis: The majority of findings indicate that night hazard detection behavior was similar across the driving conditions with the exception of time to first fixation. Time to detect the hazards was generally quicker on the road in both age groups. Comparison of the eye tracking measures indicated few statistically significant differences between older and younger adults’ hazard detection behavior. Though, older adults did take slightly longer to initially see hazards. Discussion: Findings indicated that, despite age-related visual decline, older adults detected hazards similarly to younger adults, especially when assessing on-road performance. However, they may take slightly longer to see hazards at night which should be considered in self-regulation. Results also support the use of driving simulators as a safe mechanism to observe driving habits, behaviors, and mistakes without risk to the driver, evaluator, or environment. Though, fitness to drive assessment should also include on-road observation due to limitations in absolute validity of simulation. Future research should place emphasis on analysis on time to first fixation, as it may offer the most driving-safety related information. Occupational therapists have a vital role in determining/addressing fitness to drive, reducing risk of crashes, and researching ways to address occupational needs.