Vision, visibility, and perception in driving

Perception. 1980;9(2):183-216. doi: 10.1068/p090183.


Recent research is reviewed and its implications discussed. "On-the-Spot" accident investigations have confirmed that errors of perception by the driver are a major contributory factor to accidents. However, the available evidence suggests that few of these are attributable to reduced or defective vision, since at best only a weak relationship has been found between a driver's level of vision (or visual performance) and his accident rate. A number of reasons for this general finding are considered, including driver compensation. For all drivers, the rapid fall in visual acuity with angular distance from the centre of vision presents particular problems, giving special significance to eye-movement patterns and the problems of visual search. Numerous physical and psychophysical restrictions on visibility could lead to the "looked, but failed to see" type of accident, but their relative importance requires evaluation. There is now much evidence that the driver is quite often operating beyond his visual or perceptual capabilities in a number of key driving situations, including overtaking, joining or crossing a high-speed road, and a number of nighttime situations. It is concluded that "expectancy", based on experience in both the long and the short term, has a profound influence on driver perception and assessment of risk. For all drivers, serious errors of judgment from time to time would seem inevitable. In general, these do not lead to accidents because of, among other things, the safety margins added by the driver and adjustments made by other road users. Thus, despite his limitations and fallibilities, the average driver is involved in surprisingly few serious incidents, particularly in view of the rapid rate of decisionmaking that is required. However, the present accident rate should not be accepted as inevitable and various countermeasures are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / prevention & control
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attention
  • Automobile Driving*
  • Discrimination Learning
  • Distance Perception
  • Eye Movements
  • Female
  • Form Perception
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motion Perception
  • Perceptual Masking
  • Reaction Time
  • Visual Acuity*
  • Visual Fields
  • Visual Perception*