The basic driver error: late detection

Ergonomics. 1990 Oct-Nov;33(10-11):1281-90. doi: 10.1080/00140139008925332.


Over the past two or three decades we have been quite successful in reducing injuries of car occupants by the use of energy-absorbing techniques; but we have not been as successful in reducing the risks of having collisions. When drivers are asked why an accident occurred very often they claim that they saw the other road user too late to avoid collision. This paper discusses the basic road user error of failing to see another road user in time, why such errors happen, and how they can be reduced. A detection error is basic, because without detection no processing of information, no decision process including that road user, takes place. Among the many causes of detection error two of the more important are: a lapse of cognitive expectation, illustrated by the failure to scan for a particular class of road user, or to look in the appropriate direction; a difficulty with perceptual thresholds, illustrated by the failure to discern the relevant stimuli in lower levels of ambient illumination or in situations where vehicles approach in the peripheral visual field of road users.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / psychology
  • Attention*
  • Automobile Driving / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Motion Perception
  • Orientation
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Reaction Time*
  • Visual Fields*