PURPOSE: Optical blur and ageing are known to affect driving performance but their effects on drivers' eye movements are poorly understood. This study examined the effects of optical blur and age on eye movement patterns and performance on the DriveSafe slide recognition test which is purported to predict fitness to drive.
METHODS: Twenty young (27.1 ± 4.6 years) and 20 older (73.3 ± 5.7 years) visually normal drivers performed the DriveSafe under two visual conditions: best-corrected vision and with +2.00 DS blur. The DriveSafe is a Visual Recognition Slide Test that consists of brief presentations of static, real-world driving scenes containing different road users (pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles). Participants reported the types, relative positions and direction of travel of the road users in each image; the score was the number of correctly reported items (maximum score of 128). Eye movements were recorded while participants performed the DriveSafe test using a Tobii TX300 eye tracking system.
RESULTS: There was a significant main effect of blur on DriveSafe scores (best-corrected: 114.9 vs blur: 93.2; p < 0.001). There was also a significant age and blur interaction on the DriveSafe scores (p < 0.001) such that the young drivers were more negatively affected by blur than the older drivers (reductions of 22% and 13% respectively; p < 0.001): with best-corrected vision, the young drivers performed better than the older drivers (DriveSafe scores: 118.4 vs 111.5; p = 0.001), while with blur, the young drivers performed worse than the older drivers (88.6 vs 95.9; p = 0.009). For the eye movement patterns, blur significantly reduced the number of fixations on road users (best-corrected: 5.1 vs blur: 4.5; p < 0.001), fixation duration on road users (2.0 s vs 1.8 s; p < 0.001) and saccade amplitudes (7.4° vs 6.7°; p < 0.001). A main effect of age on eye movements was also found where older drivers made smaller saccades than the young drivers (6.7° vs 7.4°; p < 0.001).
CONCLUSIONS: Blur reduced DriveSafe scores for both age groups and this effect was greater for the young drivers. The decrease in number of fixations and fixation duration on road users, as well as the reduction in saccade amplitudes under the blurred condition, highlight the difficulty experienced in performing the task in the presence of optical blur, which suggests that uncorrected refractive errors may have a detrimental impact on aspects of driving performance.