SOURCE: Central Michigan University

October 17, 2008 16:25 ET

CMU Driving Center Assists Older Drivers to Make Roads Safer

MOUNT PLEASANT, MI--(Marketwire - October 17, 2008) - The National Highway Traffic Safety Association reported that more than 12 percent of Michigan's fatal traffic crashes in 2007 involved drivers 65 years of age and older. And as this population ages at a rapid pace, a one-of-a-kind center at Central Michigan University will work with these drivers in order to keep every motorist safe.

The mission of the Center for Driving Evaluation, Education and Research, also known as the DEER Center, is to keep people driving safely longer. The center enables older drivers or persons who have had a stroke or brain injury, or who suffer from a neurodegenerative disease, to have their cognitive driving ability evaluated to assess whether it is safe for them to either continue driving or resume driving.

Driving evaluations take place in a controlled environment using the AAA Michigan Driving Simulator, advanced technology created from an actual vehicle and has a 180-degree forward field of view.

"The use of an advanced simulator keeps costs of evaluation down and enables researchers to quantify data on driving performance," said Rick Backs, CMU psychologist and DEER Center director.

As deficiencies are identified in the evaluation process, resources will be provided to help remediation. Education will be available to drivers 50 years of age or older through the AARP driver safety program, and many remediation services, including audiology, psychology, speech-language pathology, physical therapy, and fall and balance prevention and rehabilitation, are available through CMU's Carls Center for Clinical Care and Education. The DEER Center also hopes to integrate evaluation with training in the near future.

"It is not our intention to take drivers' licenses away. Instead, we will provide resources that will help them keep their licenses as long as possible," said Backs.

Backs, along with DEER Center research scientist Nick Cassavagh, also incorporate a research component into the center with research on older drivers and drivers with attention disorders.

Located within CMU's health professions building, the DEER Center is a collaboration between the College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions.

For broadcast-quality video footage of the Center for Driving Evaluation, Education and Research, including commentary from center director Rick Backs, e-mail Tim O'Brien at obrie1t@cmich.edu.