Visual attention in novice drivers

A lack of situation awareness

Melissa Dickinson, Eugene Chekaluk, Julia Irwin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Citations (Scopus)


Visual attention is an important skill in driving. Novice drivers have been shown to have significantly poorer visual attention skills in high demand situations. Two hypotheses, situation awareness and cognitive resource limitation, have been proposed to explain this attention deficit. The former may be thought of as schema-driven attention and the latter as referring to automatic or controlled processing. Nevertheless, the existing literature refers to situation awareness and cognitive resource limitation so we will continue to refer to them in this way. Although support has been shown for both hypotheses, when tested directly situation awareness appears to best explain this deficit. This study aimed firstly to investigate the deficit in novices using a peripheral identification task to measure visual attention and secondly to improve on previous methodology comparing the two hypotheses. Eighty-five participants completed a driving simulation that varied in demand, as measured by drive difficulty, during which they had to identify peripherally presented stimuli. The results confirmed that novices display a visual attention deficit in high demand situations. To investigate what hypothesis best explained this deficit, 58 novice drivers completed an additional drive. Participants were allocated to one of four conditions that varied in amount of cognitive resources utilised. Even when cognitive resources were not being used for vehicle control, novice drivers still have poor visual attention. This finding supports the situation awareness hypothesis. Future research should focus on investigating the parameters of situation awareness in novice drivers to help them overcome this vulnerability.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDriver Distraction and Inattention
Subtitle of host publicationAdvances in Research and Countermeasures
EditorsMichael A. Regan, John D. Lee, Trent W. Victor
Place of PublicationFarnham, Surrey, England
PublisherAshgate Publishing
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)9781409425854, 1409425851
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 2013

Publication series

NameHuman Factors in Road and Rail Transport
PublisherCRC Press

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  • Cite this

    Dickinson, M., Chekaluk, E., & Irwin, J. (2013). Visual attention in novice drivers: A lack of situation awareness. In M. A. Regan, J. D. Lee, & T. W. Victor (Eds.), Driver Distraction and Inattention: Advances in Research and Countermeasures (Vol. 1, pp. 277-292). (Human Factors in Road and Rail Transport). Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing.