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Learner driver experience project

Learner drivers and hazard perception and situation awareness

MUARC were commissioned to conduct a longitudinal study to assess two driver-related cognitive perceptual skills, hazard perception and situation awareness over three separate assessment sessions. The major focus was to investigate how these two skills develop as novices accumulated driving experience in the first 18 to 24 months of driving.

There were 35 novices and 16 experienced drivers that completed all three assessment sessions. Novices were assessed before they gained their learner permit, during their learner permit period, and once they entered the probationary licence period.

For the non-distraction condition participants were instructed to click on up to three hazards or potential hazards in the scene and to click on the worst hazard first (the primary hazard). For the distraction condition participants were instructed to count and recall the number of red, blue and green, circles in addition to the task of identifying any hazards or potential hazards in the photographs.

Whilst novices were accurate at detecting hazards in the joining lane their performance on hazards in their own lanes was quite poor. Experienced drivers were significantly faster than novices to detect the primary hazard, and they were also significantly more accurate than novices in detecting hazards overall.

Analyses of the situation awareness data included participants that had completed the first assessment session only. There were 86 novices and 20 experienced drivers. Two situation awareness tasks were devised. For the situation awareness location task, participants were instructed that after the photograph disappeared they would need to provide information about the road layout, including the number of lanes on the driver’s side of the road, the position of the lane in which the driver’s vehicle was located, and the locations of up to three closest vehicles.

This task was then repeated, adding the same distraction task as used for the hazard perception task. For the situation awareness prediction task, participants were informed that, after a 10-second interval, the video would be blank for five seconds.
They were instructed to predict the road layout and the location of the closest three cars relative to their own car five seconds after the video had ended. This task was then repeated with the distraction task.

The main findings of the situation awareness tasks were that there were differences in performance depending on the type of task (photographs versus videos), because participants were watching scenes for different purposes (to remember versus predict the location of cars). Despite these differences in the nature of the visual information presented (i.e. digital photographs versus videos), the results reported above indicate genuine differences between the cognitive requirements of remembering where vehicles were and predicting where they might be within the relatively near future.