Habits can be broken, of course, and the scientists attempted to do just that. They designed an experiment in which older drivers were filmed as they drove near their homes. One camera was mounted on the drivers' head to record approximate line of sight as they looked around, and three other cameras were mounted in the car to monitor driving behavior. After being recorded, the drivers underwent a training session. Some watched the recorded videos of themselves driving through intersections. They also spent time driving in a simulator, where the researchers evaluated them and offered feedback, after which they were allowed to practice proper scanning. Other drivers did not watch the video of themselves and instead got half an hour of instruction, including coaching about the hazards of intersections and how to deal with them. All of them (and a control group that got no instruction) were evaluated in the simulator and on the road afterward.
The results were dramatic. Those who had merely received instruction did no better than the control group in subsequent driving tests. That is, merely being told to be careful had no effect. The older drivers who had received the video feedback, however, were indistinguishable from younger, experienced drivers in negotiating intersections. What is more, these improvements lasted a full year after the training.
The training did not attempt to improve motor skills or attention in the older drivers. The fact that this remediation worked—and so dramatically—means the scanning deficiencies are unlikely to be rooted in basic deficits of aging. The more probable conclusion, according to the scientists, is that the older drivers simply unlearned a bad driving habit.
This conclusion is welcome news. By 2030 one in four American drivers will be 65 or older, and these aging drivers are predicted to be logging more miles on our roads and highways than ever before. Older motorists are holding on to their licenses longer and relying less on others to drive them. Training such as the program used in the study may not help those who are visually, mentally or physically impaired—the Mr. Magoos of the highway—but it could be a simple and inexpensive method for heading off a looming public health problem.