If your driving is getting a bit worse as you grow older, it may be because of a natural decline in the brain’s ability to process visual information.
Some scientists believe that, as people age, their capability to rapidly grasp and act on what their eyes see can degrade. And one of the activities most affected is driving, a task that demands you simultaneously track multiple moving objects, often at the edge of your field of vision.
The decline of this capability may be one of the reasons the elderly have to stop driving. But this problem doesn’t affect only the oldest people. Some experts say that the speed and accuracy of the brain’s visual processing can begin to gradually decline in middle age or even earlier.
Now there’s a software program, for both PCs and Macs, that claims it can “train the brain to think and react faster on the road” by putting a user through brief, repetitive exercises aimed at bolstering his or her visual-processing prowess. It’s called DriveSharp, and is from a San Francisco-based company called Posit Science (positscience.com), which also produces other brain-training programs.
DriveSharp isn’t a driving simulator, but a pair of simple-looking visual memory games, plus assessment tests, that Posit Science says are based on published scientific research. The company says it purchased a training technique that researchers have proven to be effective at improving visual processing.
Posit Science makes some strong claims for DriveSharp. It asserts that people who use the program as directed (at least three times a week for 20 minutes at a time) can cut their “crash risk” by 50% and stop their cars 22 feet sooner at 55 miles per hour. It says these users can expand by 200% their “useful field of view,” the area within which you can take in details with a single glance.
And the company adds that, if you use DriveSharp as instructed for a total of 10 hours, its positive effects can last for several years. To back up these claims, Posit Science cites a number of scientific studies and articles published in well-known journals.
I’ve been testing the DriveSharp software, which costs $139 at the company’s Web site, or $99 from participating AAA Clubs. (The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has endorsed the product.)
My verdict is that it was easy to use, and it did indeed work on my ability to rapidly recall the color and position of multiple moving objects and of objects on the periphery of my vision. It intelligently adjusted to my performance, and gradually presented me with tougher tasks.
However, two major caveats are in order. First, I am neither a scientist nor a doctor, so I can’t vouch for the company’s claims about DriveSharp’s benefits or even the underlying problem it aims to alleviate. Secondly, I wasn’t able to test DriveSharp long enough to know if it actually made me a better driver.
When you first install the product, you are required to set up an account so your progress can be tracked. The software checks your computer’s video capability, suggests a distance you should sit back from the screen, and changes your screen resolution to one it deems optimal for the training. It then plays an introductory video explaining how it works.
Your first step for each of the two exercises is to take a tough assessment test to establish a baseline from which your progress is measured. DriveSharp doesn’t tell you how you’re progressing after every session, only after you take another assessment, which isn’t recommended until you’ve put in a few hours of work with the software.
The first of the two exercises in DriveSharp is called Jewel Diver. This game aims to train you to divide your attention so you can track multiple moving objects at once. Your goal is to locate colored “jewels” that have been covered by identical opaque objects and surrounded by decoys, all of which then move around. Over time, you have to find more jewels, and they move faster, for longer periods and over larger areas.
The second exercise is called Road Tour and is designed to expand your useful field of view. The exercise involves correctly recalling a car displayed in the middle of a circle and also a particular road sign, among many, near the edge of that same circle. These objects flash in front of you very quickly and are then hidden. Again, the test gets harder over time.
Both exercises are sensitive to your progress. If you’re doing well, they get tougher faster. If you’re struggling, they revert to simpler challenges for a while. I saw both of these behaviors in my tests.
I did encounter a few annoyances. For instance, a bug fix required me to re-install the entire program, not just a patch. And the company automatically emails you “newsletters” once you establish your account.
But, even though I am not endorsing Posit Science’s claims, I can say that DriveSharp was fun and challenging, and that it makes sense to this layman that it could help you notice and track things you see more accurately.