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Leading to distraction: Driver distraction, lead car, and road environment.

Kountouriotis, GK and Merat, N (2016) Leading to distraction: Driver distraction, lead car, and road environment. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 89.

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Abstract

Driver distraction is strongly associated with crashes and near-misses, and despite the attention this topic has received in recent years, the effect of different types of distracting task on driving performance remains unclear. In the case of non-visual distractions, such as talking on the phone or other engaging verbal tasks that do not require a visual input, a common finding is reduced lateral variability in steering and gaze patterns where participants concentrate their gaze towards the centre of the road and their steering control is less variable. In the experiments presented here, we examined whether this finding is more pronounced in the presence of a lead car (which may provide a focus point for gaze) and whether the behaviour of the lead car has any influence on the driver's steering control. In addition, both visual and non-visual distraction tasks were used, and their effect on different road environments (straight and curved roadways) was assessed. Visual distraction was found to increase variability in both gaze patterns and steering control, non-visual distraction reduced gaze and steering variability in conditions without a lead car; in the conditions where a lead car was present there was no significant difference from baseline. The lateral behaviour of the lead car did not have an effect on steering performance, a finding which indicates that a lead car may not necessarily be used as an information point. Finally, the effects of driver distraction were different for straight and curved roadways, indicating a stronger influence of the road environment in steering than previously thought.

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