The effects of brief visual interruption tasks on drivers' ability to resume their visual search for a pre-cued hazard

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Driver visual distraction is known to increase the likelihood of being involved in a crash, especially for long glances inside the vehicle. The detrimental impact of these in-vehicle glances may carry over and disrupt the ongoing processing of information after the driver glances back up on the road. This study explored the effect of different types of visual tasks inside the vehicle on the top-down processes that guide the detection and monitoring of road hazards after the driver glances back towards the road. Using a driving simulator, 56 participants were monitored with an eye tracking system while they navigated various hazardous scenarios in one of four experimental conditions. In all conditions, a potential hazard was visible 4-5 s before the driver could strike the potential hazard were it to materialize. All interruptions were exactly two seconds in length. After the interruption the potential hazard again became visible for about a half-second after which the driver passed by the hazard. The nature of the in-vehicle visual interruption presented to the participants was varied across conditions: (1) Visual interruptions comprised of spatial, driving unrelated, tasks; (2) visual interruptions comprised of non-spatial, driving unrelated, tasks; (3) visual interruptions with no tasks added; and (4) no visual interruptions. In the first three conditions drivers glancing on the forward roadway was momentarily interrupted (either with or without a task) just after the potential hazard first became visible by the occurrence of an in-vehicle task lasting two seconds. In the last condition (no interruptions) the driver could not see the potential hazard after it just became visible because of obstructions in the built or natural environment. The obstruction (like the interruption) lasted for two seconds. In other words, across all conditions the hazard was visible, then became invisible, and finally became visible again. Importantly, the results show that the presence of an interruption (as opposed to an obstruction) negatively impacted drivers' ability to anticipate the potential hazard. Moreover, the various types of interruptions had differential effects on hazard detection. The implications of this study for the design of in-vehicle displays are discussed.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)207-216
Number of pages10
JournalAccident Analysis and Prevention
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2016


  • Brief visual interruptions
  • Driver distraction
  • Eye movements
  • Hazard anticipation

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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