Simple Maze Test Could Help Identify At-Risk Older Drivers

PAFF_022515_MazeTestDriving_newsfeatureAs we age, many of the cognitive skills required for safe driving begin to decline. But age itself is not a useful guide for when a driver should hand in the keys. While drivers in their sixties can show dangerous cognitive declines, some 95 year-olds are perfectly safe behind the wheel. So how do we determine when seniors should retire from driving?

A recent study sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that a simple 3-minute test may accurately identify older drivers who are at heightened risk of serious accidents.

Previous research has shown that performance on maze tests, in which subjects trace a path through a simple maze, is a good proxy for the same kinds of visuospatial skills, planning, and judgment required for safe driving.

The research team, led by psychological scientists Loren Staplin and Kenneth Gish of…


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Driving in Rain, Sleet, or Snow? Cognitive Biases Worsen Winter Driving

PAFF_022015_SnowyDriving_newsfeatureThis winter much of the United States has been battered by snowstorms and record freezing temperatures. But snowflakes and black ice aren’t the only things making winter roads dangerous — it’s likely that many drivers succumb to common cognitive biases that lead them to overestimate their skill at handling hazardous road conditions.

Psychological scientists have long known that people generally tend to view their skills in optimistic terms—regardless of how their abilities actually hold up in reality. In a recent article published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, Ethan Zell of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Zlatan Krizan of Iowa State University looked at dozens of studies evaluating people’s insight into their own skills and abilities.

After analyzing data from 22 meta-analyses, Zell and Krizan concluded that people have a tendency to overestimate their skills, whether it’s making basketball…


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Driving Under the Influence of Friends is Risky for Teens

PAFF_021115_InfluenceTeenDrivers_newsfeatureTeen drivers are far more likely die in car accidents when they drive with friends. According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a teen driver’s risk of death per mile driven increases by 44% with one teen passenger in the car and quadruples with three or more teen passengers. As a result, many states now have laws limiting the number of passengers allowed in a car with a teen driver.

Crash data has long shown that driving with peers dramatically increases the odds of fatal crashes for teens, particularly males, but researchers have been unable to pinpoint exactly why some teens’ driving behavior spins out of control in the presence of their friends.

A recent study by a team of psychological scientists from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at NIH, the…


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Analysis of Social Cognition Predicts Dangerous Drivers

PAFF_020415_DrivingandSocialCognition_newsfeatureA team of psychological scientists in the Czech Republic is looking at the brains of bad drivers to understand why some of us flout the rules–putting others at risk of serious injury or death–while the rest of us abide by them.

In a recent study published in the journal NeuroImage, lead author Jana Zelinková of the Central European Institute of Technology found that while watching videos on traffic safety, people with a history of dangerous driving show relatively less activation in brain areas associated with social cognition and empathy compared to their law-abiding counterparts.

“We use driving as an index of social behavior, assuming that more pro-social individuals will drive in a manner that is safe and consistent with road regulations, whereas anti-social individuals will drive more dangerously without consideration for others,” Zelinková and colleagues write.

Traffic safety campaigns often try to…


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Researchers Investigate Why Cyclists Run Red Lights

PAFF_012815_BikesRunRedLights_newsfeatureMuch like motorists, cyclists don’t always obey traffic laws. From Melbourne to New York City, urban dwellers have grumbled about encounters with bicyclists who brazenly zip straight through red lights without even a glance at oncoming traffic or pedestrians in the crosswalk.

But while risky behavior in motorists has been extensively studied, relatively little research has been published on similar behavior for bicyclists.

To find out more about cyclists’ real world behavior at red lights, psychological scientists Changxu Wu, Lin Yao, and Kan Zhang from the Chinese Academy of Sciences filmed cyclists (both normal bicycles and electronic bicycles) crossing the street at three busy intersections in Beijing.

“The red-light running is often reported as highly dangerous, but we are not exactly sure who the red-light runners are, what factors affect their red-light running decisions, and what the behavior characteristics are,” writes Wu…


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