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Giving the road your full attention

   Giving the road your full attention

With an estimated 95 per cent of incidents on the road being the result of human error, it may come as no surprise that a substantial number of these occur due to driver inattention.

There are many tasks that take place during the course of a journey that can divide the attention of a driver – arguing children in the back of a car, changing a radio station, or the actions of another road user. But one of the most easily-avoidable distractions is that of mobile phone interaction, be it by looking at or just talking on a phone; having a conversation using a hands-free device can also increase the likelihood of being involved in an accident.

To investigate the effect of phone conversations on our visual attention (i.e. taking in the sights around us and our vehicles) my colleagues and I undertook several experiments.

We found that having any kind of mobile phone conversation slows down responses, whether having “easy” or “difficult” conversations. This slowing of response even occurs when people are using hands-free devices – we tested this in all of our experiments, and we always found a cognitive delay in response from people who were talking on a mobile phone, versus those who were not.

This cognitive delay can lead to people having lapses in concentration, and missing things that may be important (called “change blindness”), such as a change in circumstances on the road ahead of or around them, which can in turn cause dangerous situations.

Further, this phenomenon can be exacerbated by a person’s tendency to be overconfident in thinking that they do not have a problem in paying attention when driving, which may suggest why so many people continue to use their mobile phones while behind the wheel.

We need to find a way to demonstrate to road users that there is a gap between how attentive they think they are, and how much attention they are actually paying to the world around them. Once this has been established we can then seek to change their behaviours.

As such, we have developed an intervention based on this “change blindness” phenomenon, which helps people to realise they are not as good at paying attention as they think they are when driving, highlighting the importance of attention.

The intervention is currently being used by police forces and local authorities in several road safety campaigns across the country, and is helping drivers and other road users to reflect on their actions.

Dr Melina Kunar will be speaking on this intervention, and how it’s being used, at this year’s RoSPA Fleet and Road Safety Conference at Leicester Conferences on Thursday, February 27. For more details and to book your place, see

Posted: 2/13/2020 12:38:08 PM 0 comments


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