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Looking and thinking when driving: The impact of gaze and cognitive load on steering

Kountouriotis, GK and Wilkie, RM and Gardner, PH and Merat, N (2015) Looking and thinking when driving: The impact of gaze and cognitive load on steering. Transportation Research. Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 34. ISSN 1369-8478

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Abstract

Driving around bends at high speeds is a task performed by many on a daily basis but the underlying mechanisms of steering control remain largely unknown. Previous research has shown that when steering, gaze direction can be a critical component of success. However, with increased use of in-vehicle information systems (IVIS), there is growing competition over the same resources that are needed to steer (gaze as well as associated attentional resources). Although it can be argued that locomotor steering is an automatic task that can be performed without recourse to conscious ‘cognitive’ control, much simpler locomotor-related tasks, such as judging one’s heading, have been shown to be affected by concurrent attentional tasks (Wann, Swapp, & Rushton, 2000). Here we examined whether an attentional task placed at an offset fixation point influenced concurrent steering performance along a computer simulated road. The experiments either used gaze-fixation points that had similar properties to real-world road signs (i.e. moved relative to the vehicle) or were more akin to IVIS (i.e. fixed to the vehicle). Results showed that gaze fixation eccentric to future path caused systematic steering biases. The degree or type of cognitive load did not change the degree of steering bias, but there was some evidence of decreased lane variability when viewing the IVIS-type displays. No differences in steering performance were found between the different types of cognitive task. We conclude that where you look is critical for safe driving, and IVIS-type displays might make drivers more susceptible to cognitive interference.

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