Objectives: Previous studies indicate a negative association between depression and driving fitness in the general population. Our goal was to cover a gap in the literature and to explore the link between depressive symptoms and driving behavior in individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) through the use of a driving simulator experiment.

Methods: Twenty-four individuals with MCI (mean age = 67.42, SD = 7.13) and 23 cognitively healthy individuals (mean age = 65.13, SD = 7.21) were introduced in the study. A valid driving license and regular car use served as main inclusion criteria. Data collection included a neurological/neuropsychological assessment and a driving simulator evaluation. Depressive symptomatology was assessed with the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9).

Results: Significant interaction effects indicating a greater negative impact of depressive symptoms in drivers with MCI than in cognitively healthy drivers were observed in the case of various driving indexes, namely, average speed, accident risk, side bar hits, headway distance, headway distance variation, and lateral position variation. The associations between depressive symptoms and driving behavior remained significant after controlling for daytime sleepiness and cognition.

Conclusions: Depressive symptoms could be a factor explaining why certain patients with MCI present altered driving skills. Therefore, interventions for treating the depressive symptoms of individuals with MCI could prove to be beneficial regarding their driving performance.