FSU researchers to help Florida DOT advise older drivers

Neil Charness, director of the Institute for Successful Longevity at Florida State.
Neil Charness, director of the Institute for Successful Longevity at Florida State.

What is the most effective way to quickly explain new road signs and signals to drivers, especially Florida’s growing population of older drivers? Florida State University’s Institute for Successful Longevity will help the state’s Department of Transportation find out.

For years, the Florida DOT has produced “tip cards” to explain new features such as warning lights to drivers. The Institute for Successful Longevity will study the effectiveness of the tip cards and provide recommended guidelines for their creation and use.

“Two-thirds of Floridians 65 or older drive,” said Neil Charness, director of the institute and principal investigator of the study. “That means millions of drivers on our roads may have some limitations in vision, for example, or in cognition. We need to take these limitations into account when we consider how best to explain any changes on our state’s roadways.”

Charness and the institute are bringing together experts in psychology and communications to look at how to make the driver tip cards easily and fully understood by all.

Charness, the William G. Chase Professor of Psychology at FSU, is joined on the project by FSU faculty members Laura Arpan, Julianne Cortese and Russell Clayton from the College of Communication and Information, and Walter Boot and Michael Kaschak from the Department of Psychology.

This interdisciplinary approach reflects how the Institute of Successful Longevity views America’s older population and how it considers ways to improve the lives of seniors.

“Older citizens are active and mobile, and their lives are complex and multidimensional,” Charness said. “Our research efforts are designed to address this complexity and support it.”

Charness said the Florida Department of Transportation was right to study its communications with older drivers.

“Most Floridians continue to drive long past retirement,” he said. “Among Floridians 80 years old or older, half are still behind the wheel. This presents serious challenges to those responsible for keeping our highways safe and functional for everyone. Clear communication is key.”

FDOT staff members distribute the tip cards to senior centers around the state and share the cards when they speak to groups of older drivers.

Work on the tip cards will begin immediately, Charness said, and the team will provide its report and recommendations to Gail Holley, Florida DOT’s Safe Mobility for Life Program and Research Manager. The study is supported by a $215,000 contract from Florida DOT.

Tip cards and other information for older drivers available on the Florida DOT website.