Assessment of Older Driver Performance Under Low Level Alcohol Impairment

Alcohol related motor vehicle crashes are an important cause of injury and death in all age groups, and the elderly, typically defined as persons older than age 65, are the fastest growing segment of the driving population. A person's crash risk per mile increases beginning at age 55, and older drivers are more likely to be seriously injured than younger drivers in equivalent crashes. There is now little dispute that driving under the influence of alcohol is dangerous and there is a plethora of research reporting the behavior of drivers whilst intoxicated. Elderly individuals achieve a higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC) than younger people after consuming an equal amount of alcohol. Consequently, the elderly are at higher risk for intoxication and adverse effects. Faced with the aging of the nation's population and a redefinition of accessibility, mobility and safety, this project investigates the contribution that the operation of devices such as navigation systems, cell phones for phone and text messaging etc. have on the degradation of performance of older drivers operating vehicles while intoxicated well below legal limits, as evidenced by eye movements. Innovations in data acquisition, video processing and sensor capabilities have now made it possible to track intricate biological and dynamic phenomena with accuracy and precision that just a short time ago was at least several orders of magnitude less. The Eye Movement Tracking Laboratory at the University of Rhode Island has developed sensors and data collection methods that can be deployed for on road data collection from drivers operating own vehicles (i.e. vehicles owned by the drivers). This project uses the existing hardware and is developing new devices to collect biometric data from drivers. This data is being collected from drivers in the laboratory, in a simulator and on_road (closed) courses and will investigate the effect of low levels (.04% g/ml BAC, about half the legal limit) of alcohol consumption on older driver performance. In addition, the experiments will are designed to evaluate the effect of operating devices such as navigation equipment, cell phones etc, under these conditions of low inebriation.