“Inattentional blindness” may pose risk for peds, cyclists

Despite increased awareness about the risks, distracted driving remains a major problem on California roadways. Unfortunately, pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists may be especially vulnerable when motorists are not paying attention.

However, even drivers who have their eyes on the road may cause a collision due to a psychological phenomenon researchers call “inattentional blindness.”

What is inattentional blindness?

Even under normal conditions, driving requires that an individual react to a huge amount of visual data fairly quickly. Since the human brain can only process so much information at a time, it may “filter out” some visual data before a person becomes conscious of it.

How does inattentional blindness affect driver perception?

Inattentional blindness may occur when a driver fails to notice unexpected objects that are in plain sight. A recent Australian study demonstrates how that might impact driver perception.

Participants looked at a series of driver’s-view images and identified potential traffic hazards. In the last photograph, researchers introduced a new vehicle: either a taxi or motorcycle. Of the 56 study members, 31% overlooked the taxi, 65% did not notice the motorcycle and 48% failed to notice any new object.

What can drivers do to prevent inattentional blindness?

Whether consciously or unconsciously, drivers are generally looking out for larger vehicles and other passenger cars. That can make it easy to overlook other types of traffic, including foot traffic and cyclists. Motorists may be able to prevent an inattentional mistake by making a habit of watching for non-auto traffic and remembering to expect the unexpected.

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