Examination of Older Driver Perceptions and Actual Behaviour in Sole Household Drivers and Driving Couples
Blanchard, Robin Ann
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Introduction: Driver perceptions may be a more important determinant of behaviour than one’s actual driving abilities. While there is evidence to support these associations, prior studies have relied on self-reports of driving behaviour. Purpose: The primary purposes of this study were to extend previous research by examining driver perceptions in relation to measures of actual driving behaviour and to compare the perceptions and behaviour of sole versus couple drivers. Methods: A convenience sample of 61 older drivers (aged 67 to 92, 59% women) were recruited as either sole drivers (only driver in the household, n=39) or couples (both currently driving and sharing a vehicle, n=22). Two in-vehicle devices (one with a GPS unit) were installed in participant vehicles for one week. Participants completed trip logs, out-of-home activity diaries, questions on usual driving habits and ratings of situational driving frequency and avoidance. Perceptions were assessed using the Driving Comfort Scales (DCS Day and Night) and Perceived Driving Abilities (PDA) Scales. Couples were also asked to rate their comfort level in their partner’s driving using modified DCSs. Tools were administered at one of two home visits (during which vehicle devices were installed and removed) and an interview conducted at the end to ascertain whether the week’s driving was typical. Results: Driving comfort scores were significantly related to multiple indicators of actual driving behaviour, including: radius from home (DCS-D, p<.05; DCS-N, p<.01), total distance overall (DCS-N, p<.001) and at night (DCS-D, p<.05; DCS-N, p<.01). Perceived abilities, meanwhile, were related to distance driven (p<.01). Although sole drivers were significantly older, they drove more often, longer distances and for greater duration than couple drivers. Overall, men had higher DCS scores and, in couples, were more likely to rate themselves higher than their spouses. Partners’ comfort levels in their spouses’ driving were related to their spouses’ self-reported situational avoidance and amount of night driving over the study week. When couples drove together, traditional roles were evident (i.e., the husband often preferred to drive and the wife let him). Multivariate analyses showed that the square-root of distance (km) was most influenced by household status, location of residence, perceived abilities, and gender (R2 = .57), while the log of the average radius was influenced by location of residence and perceived comfort in night driving (R2 = .33). Conclusions: This was the first study to examine older drivers’ perceptions in relation to actual driving behaviour and to compare the perceptions and behaviour of sole versus couple drivers. Study results supported prior associations (with self-reported driving) and extended our knowledge base by demonstrating that perceptions (both personal and those of others) are important to actual driving behaviour. The current findings also provide new insight into the importance of examining location of residence and household status.