Despite increased awareness, distracted driving remains a major issue on national and state roadways. According to the National Safety Council, distracted drivers cause about eight fatal crashes each day in the U.S.
Mobile phones, GPS devices and other onboard distractions are often to blame. However, even when a driver is looking at the road, he or she may not notice a hazard due to the psychological phenomenon of “inattentional blindness.”
What is inattentional blindness?
The human brain must absorb an incredible amount of visual information from moment to moment. Because of the sheer amount of data, the mind often filters out unexpected or seemingly irrelevant information before the viewer is even aware of it.
How can inattentional blindness impact driving safety?
Car drivers are usually looking out primarily for other cars or larger vehicles that are hard to miss. However, they may not be looking out for smaller vehicles, like motorcycles or bicycles, and they may miss pedestrians even if they are looking in the right direction.
A recent study by the Australian National University shows how prevalent this phenomenon may be. Researchers asked participants to review a series of driver-view photographs and identify potential traffic hazards. The testers inserted an unexpected vehicle in the final image: either a motorcycle or a taxi. Of the 56 participants, 48% did not notice any additional vehicle, 31% did not notice the taxi and 65% did not notice the motorcycle.
Drivers who want to avoid an inattentional accident should make sure that both their eyes and their attention are on the task at hand. In addition to watching out for other cars, it is essential for motorists to train themselves to keep an eye out for the unexpected, including cyclists, pedestrians and other unusual forms of traffic that they may otherwise overlook.