BY NICHOLAS DESCALZI
If you cannot get to end of the maze, then you should not be on the road.
This is the idea behind a new cognitive test, developed by a South Australian psychologist, which is designed to identify hazardous older drives by how they navigate through a simple maze.
Dr Carol Snellgrove of Flinders Medical Centre’s pain management unit says that her Snellgrove Maze Task should be completed by any competent driver in 60 seconds and without any errors.
“What I am hoping is the maze will be able to identify drivers who are safe to stay on the road… it’s all about keeping older, safe people on the roads,” she says.
A report released by South Australia’s Department for Transport Energy and Infrastructure in 2010 explains that while older drivers are generally safe, it is important to note that the ageing process can affect driving skills.
“The ability to process information slows as people age,” the report says.
“Older drivers must be aware that their reactions to unexpected situations can be slower than they previously were… amny [older] people experience deterioration of their vision and hearing.”
Managing Director of Safe Drive Training Australia Joel Neilsen agrees
“They don’t quite have the dexterity they used to have,” he says.
“The car is such a necessary tool for modern life that they want to hang on to that for as long as they can and some people do take it just that little bit too far, and maybe, six months or a year of extra driving that they shouldn’t be doing.”
South Australia’s Repatriation General Hospital, recently took the Snellgrove Maze Task for a test run with 115 of its cognitively impaired patients.
Every individual took the maze test, and in each case, everyone who failed to get through Snellgrove’s maze in less than 60 seconds, went on to the fail the on-road tests.
While Dr Snellgrove still believes a driving test is ultimately the best way to examine an individual’s driving skills, she sees her test as valuable in extreme cases.
”The potential of the Snellgrove Maze Task is that the most competent and the most dangerous cognitively impaired older drivers can be identified without a costly and time-consuming on-road assessment,” she says.
But not everyone agrees that only senior drivers should be re-tested.
Matthew Blundell, 26, who recently received his license for the time, believes it is important that all drivers are continuously scrutinised.
“I think that everyone should have to do drivers test when you renew your license every ten years. If you fail then you have to do a defensive and driving instruction course to get your license back,” he says.
“ They (senior drivers) mainly drive slow, but a few do drive into intersections, reverse out of driveways blindly, and don’t know some of the road laws, such as merging lanes, but I also have this trouble with 40 and 50 year olds too.”
Dr Snellgrove says that rigorous in depth re-testing of a drivers ability is not truly possible, but hopes that one day her Maze test will become a regular component of the license renewal process.