Changes in driver performance have been observed with certain health conditions such as diabetes, dementia & Alzheimer’s, ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, sleep apnea, as well as others. Numerous studies have shown changes in driving behavior and performance with mediation usage. A small but growing body of research shows that disease and medication usage has a larger impact on driving performance than age per se. In essence, a perfectly healthy 75 year old may be far more capable of driving safely than a 55 year old suffering from two chronic disease conditions and taking 3 medications.
In collaboration with colleagues at MIT and at a number of major academic medical centers in the Boston area, I have been working on a number of studies investigating the impact of disease and medication status on driver behavior and performance. Effort in this area began through the study of ADHD drivers that have progressed to a current phase IV medication trial. Recent work has expanded to include the assessment of differences between driving behaviors of a “healthy” older population and a population suffering from a broad range of cardiovascular conditions. Future research efforts targeting specific medications and conditions associated with older adults (e.g. diabetics, sleep aids, anti-depressants, cardiovascular conditions, etc.) are being evaluated. Specific research questions in this area include:
- Does attention to the driving task, spare capacity or driving performance differ between disease groups or between treated and un-treated individuals?
- Are health impaired operators more or less aware of the demands involved with basic driving as well as common secondary tasks such as navigation device and cellular phone use?
- Does the presence of one or more health impairments impact the degree to which an operator can perform secondary activities?
- What types of driving behaviors are impacted by specific indications or medications?
- How best can practitioners, patients and regulatory bodies be adequately informed of any limitations in driver capacity, performance, etc. based on disease state and medication usage?