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Understanding looked-but-failed-to-see accidents; the role of inattentional blindness

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Road accidents in which a driver fails to see another road user that is clearly in view are common. They are referred to as “looked-but-failed-to-see” accidents. The literature on “looked-but-fail-to-see” experiments is fragmented, poorly executed and highly specific. Yet such experiences map precisely onto a known psychological phenomenon called Inattentional Blindness (IB). This is where an observer fails to see an unexpected stimuli or event while attending to another, primary task. The aim of this project was to explore the factors that might increase or decrease incidences of IB in road users, and by extension, the human factors that increase or decrease “looked-but-failed-to-see” accidents. We conducted a battery of test to determine the factors that might influence the detection of an unexpected object in a driving IB task. Our primary driving task consisted of a novel, static IB task where participants were presented with a sequence of driving snapshots. In each snapshot they were required to make a judgement of whether it was a ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’ driving environment. The results from this project suggest that the familiarity of the driving situation may be important in the way in which we tune attentional mechanisms such that we become more vigilant in an unfamiliar environment, but because we lack an attentional template for items that should exist in the environment, this vigilance does not manifest behaviorally into an increased tendency to spot unexpected items on the road. Conversely, in a familiar environment we may be less vigilant, but counter intuitively, more likely to detect an unexpected item particularly when it matches the semantic context.



Corporate Authors:

NRMA-ACT Road Safety Trust

GPO Box 2890, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia
Canberra, ACT


Pammer, K



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Subject Areas:

Safety and Human Factors; I83: Accidents and the Human Factor

Source Agency:

ARRB Group Limited

500 Burwood Highway
Vermont South, Victoria 3133



Created Date:

Jan 6 2014 10:57AM