January 5, 2009
ABC 7 (KGO) News
Jennifer Olney

It’s no secret that as we get older, our driving skills often decline. It’s partly because of physical changes that happen inside the brain. A Bay Area company came up with a science-based computer game that’s supposed to help your brain overcome those changes, and make you better behind the wheel.

Royal Taylor is 70 years old. He’s always been a good driver. But as he got older, he noticed driving got tougher.

“I’ve been aware, you know, for a long time,” said Insight user Royal Taylor.

But Royal says his skills are sharper now that he’s using a computer program called “Insight.”

“I see things now that I, in the past, didn’t see; particularly when I am driving, and just in general walking around,” said Taylor.

Royal is part of an adult education class offered by the Oakland Unified School District. Students come three times a week to work on the insight program.

“There’s age changes that happen in the mechanics of seeing, in the mechanics of hearing. The way I like to describe it in layman’s terms is: it’s like you are recalibrating your brain for these new physical changes that have happened,” said Adult education teacher Teri Barr.

The Insight Program has five different games that get progressively harder. The icons pop on and off very quickly, and you have to watch the entire screen. That’s because the game is designed to improve what’s called “your useful field of view” — critical to good driving.

“Useful field of view is the ability to in a single glance take in information over a wide area of your visual world. So without moving your eyes, your ability to see things in the center of the visual field and in the periphery at the same time,” said Joe Hardy from Posit Science.

The Insight program is made by a San Francisco company called Posit Science. It’s based in part on technology developed by the University of Alabama.

Published studies indicate using insight significantly reduces the risk of a car accident.

“It helps you think faster, focus better and remember more,” said Hardy.

64-year old Sharon Lawless is convinced insight has helped her driving.

“So here I am going over a speed bump, but let’s say somebody came out of the driveway on a bicycle and I’m concentrating on the speed bump. I think that it’s heightened my awareness of the other possibilities,” said Insight user Sharon Lawless.

The computer games may look simple, but as you advance, they get very challenging.

“One day you do well, and the next day — you just can’t do it,” said Insight user Don Zuck.

That’s why Barr thinks people are more likely to succeed if they do the program in a class rather than on their own.

“Many of these brain programs are designed to get the most out of it when you are really at your threshold and you are really being pushed. And it’s usually at that point often times, if you were doing this alone, and it gets really hard, some people have a tendency to quit,” said Barr.

Posit Science says their research shows you can get results in 10 to 40 hours, but many students in this class are doing even more.

“I’m really impressed with what the program has done,” said Zuck.

The Insight program costs $500 for two users. But if you are over 50 and you take it through the Oakland School District, the fee is only $25.