Academic journal article Human Factors

Older Driver Failures of Attention at Intersections: Using Change Blindness Methods to Assess Turn Decision Accuracy

Academic journal article Human Factors

Older Driver Failures of Attention at Intersections: Using Change Blindness Methods to Assess Turn Decision Accuracy

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Older drivers are overrepresented in fatal traffic accidents on a per-mile basis (Evans, 1988; Hakamies-Blomqvist, 1993; Massie, Campbell, & Williams, 1995; McGwin & Brown, 1999; Preusser, Williams, Ferguson, Ulmer, & Weinstein, 1998; Stamatiadis & Deacon, 1998), most likely because of their fragility (Evans, 1988; Hauer, 1988). After age 75, the risk of intersection accident involvement for older drivers increases dramatically for most intersection maneuvers (Preusser et al., 1998; Staplin & Lyles, 1991). About one half of all driver fatalities for those 80 years of age and older are at intersections, compared with 23% for drivers younger than 50 years (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 2000). Typical citations by older drivers, once they are involved in an intersection accident, are failure to yield right of way and violation of traffic controls (Caird & Hancock, 2002). Failures of perception (Caird & Hancock, 2002; Schiff, Oldak, & Shah, 1992; Staplin, 1995), attention (Owsley, 2004), memory (Delorme & Martin-Lamellet, 1998; Guerrier, Manivannan, & Nair, 1999), cognition (Drakopoulos & Lyles, 1997), and action (Caird, Horrey, & Edwards, 2001; Hakamies-Blomqvist, 1994; Lerner, 1994) are frequently used to explain why older drivers are involved in accidents. Research that seeks to understand and predict why intersection accidents occur anticipates the unprecedented demographic shift that will swell the ranks of older drivers in the future (Caird & Hancock, 2002; Hakamies-Blomqvist & Henriksson, 2000; Owsley, 2004).

The current research examines the contribution of attentional failures at intersections. Attentional failures may result from the improper division of attention (Caird & Chugh, 1997; Ponds, Brouwer, & van Wolffelaar, 1988), visual search difficulties (McDowd & Shaw, 2000; Scialfa, Kline, & Lyman, 1987; Scialfa, Thomas, & Joffe, 1994), and/or inappropriate selective attention (Ball & Owsley, 1991; Ball, Owsley, Sloane, Roenker, & Bruni, 1993; Owsley et al., 1998; Owsley, Ball, Sloane, Roenker, & Bruni, 1991 ; Parasuraman & Nestor, 1991). As such, failures of attention may result in drivers failing to detect a potential conflict with another object or detecting the conflict too late to respond appropriately (Caird & Hancock, 2002; Cairney & Catchpole, 1996; Rumar, 1990; Treat, 1980). Knowledge of the nature of visual attention may contribute to the understanding of attentional failures and, consequently, the understanding of driver errors at intersections.

In the current context, the inability of drivers to effectively detect changes in a rapidly changing and dynamic environment, such as a busy intersection, may represent an important attentional failure. Recent studies on change blindness have shed light on the understanding of visual attention. Change blindness is defined as the inability to detect changes made to an object or a scene during a saccade, flicker, blink, or movie cut (O'Regan, Rensink, & Clark, 1999).

In general, change blindness has implications for understanding how humans construct, link, and store visual representations. The long-held view is that people store detailed and coherent picture-like representations of the world from one view to the next. However, recent research into change blindness suggests this may not be the case (e.g., Mack & Rock, 1998; O'Regan et al., 1999; Rensink, O'Regan, & Clark, 1997, 2000; Simons & Levin, 1997). For example, Rensink (2000, 2002) suggested that focused visual attention provides spatiotemporal coherence for the stable representation of a single object or spatial location at a time. As such, accurate visual representations may exist only so long as attention is focused on the region or object in question. When attention is focused in one location, changes occurring in other parts of the visual scene may go unnoticed by observers, simply because there is no detailed representation of the changing location at that particular moment, If focused attention on hazardous objects is required to construct a coherent representation of a traffic scene, it follows that intersections that have increased complexity, traffic flow, and visual clutter will also have a higher incidence of missed changes (e. …

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