The Effects of Momentary Visual Disruption on Hazard Anticipation and Awareness in Driving

Avinoam Borowsky, William J. Horrey, Yulan Liang, Angela Garabet, Lucinda Simmons, Donald L. Fisher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Objective: Driver distraction is known to increase crash risk, especially when a driver glances inside the vehicle for especially long periods of time. Though it is clear that such glances increase the risk for the driver when looking inside the vehicle, it is less clear how these glances disrupt the ongoing processing of information outside the vehicle once the driver's eyes return to the road. The present study was aimed at exploring the effect of in-vehicle glances on the top-down processes that guide the detection and monitoring of hazards on the forward roadway.

Method: Using a driving simulator, 12 participants were monitored with an eye-tracking system while they navigated various hazardous scenarios. Six participants were momentarily interrupted by a visual secondary task (simulating a glance inside the vehicle) prior to the occurrence of a potential hazard and 6 were not.

Results: Eye movement analyses showed that interrupted drivers often failed to continue scanning for a potential hazard when their forward view reappeared, especially when the potential threat could not easily be localized. Additionally, drivers’ self-appraisal of workload and performance of the driving task indicated that, contrary to what one might expect, drivers in the interruption condition reported workload levels lower than and performance equal to drivers in the no interruption condition.

Conclusions: Drivers who are momentarily disrupted even for a brief duration are at risk of missing important information when they return their gaze to the forward roadway. In addition, because they are not aware of missing this information they are likely to continue engaging in in-vehicle tasks even though they are demonstrably unsafe. The implications for safety, calibration, and targeted remediation are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-139
Number of pages7
JournalTraffic Injury Prevention
Issue number2
StatePublished - 17 Feb 2015


  • driver distraction
  • eye movements
  • hazard anticipation
  • rapid resumption
  • visual interruption

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Safety Research
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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