Dr Richard Wilkie, who supervised the research, said: 'As you age your motor ability declines and this seems quite a good way for the brain to compensate for that.'
'We get slower and more variable in our actions, there is just a bit more uncertainty,' Dr Wilkie was quoted as saying by the Daily Telegraph.
'The fact older people put themselves in the middle of the road means their system is aware of that and it is much safer in the middle of the road than on the side,' he added.
For their study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, the researchers compared the motor skills of a group of over-60s with younger adults aged 18 to 40 years on a driving simulator which took them down virtual winding roads.
They found that the older group was more likely to stick to the middle of the road and only cut corners when forced to drive fast, but the younger contingent took more risks.
The trend would be less noticeable on motorways, which are designed to be wide and safe, but would be quite distinctive on a winding country lane where there are more bends and fewer road markings, Dr Wilkie said.
A second experiment in which another group of volunteers were asked to trace a route with their finger along a path on a monitor showed that older people's 'middle-of-the-road' tendencies apply to more than just driving.
Rachel Raw, who led the study, said: 'Our results suggest that this compensation strategy is a general phenomenon and not just tied to driving.
'It seems older people naturally adjust their movements to compensate for their reduced level of skill.
'But this compensation can only take you so far, and when conditions are difficult, perhaps because of snow or hail, or when driving at night time on poorly lit roads, older adults can struggle.'
The findings, the researchers said, could help recovering stoke patients regain the ability to drive by improving our understanding of the brain.
'This is quite useful for us because we are still carrying out research on stroke patients who are trying to return to driving and they are often older adults as well, so we are checking those compensation methods in the brain to see if they might help,' Dr Wilkie added.