Evaluation of methods for the assessment of attention while driving

Publisher's full text

The ability to assess the current attentional state of the driver is important for many aspects of driving, not least in the field of partial automation for transfer of control between vehicle and driver. Knowledge about the driver's attentional state is also necessary for the assessment of the effects of additional tasks on attention. The objective of this paper is to evaluate different methods that can be used to assess attention, first theoretically, and then empirically in a controlled field study and in the laboratory.

Six driving instructors participated in all experimental conditions of the study, delivering within-subjects data for all tested methods. Additional participants were recruited for some of the conditions. The test route consisted of 14. km of motorway with low to moderate traffic, which was driven three times per participant per condition. The on-road conditions were: baseline, driving with eye tracking and self-paced visual occlusion, and driving while thinking aloud. The laboratory conditions were: Describing how attention should be distributed on a motorway, and thinking aloud while watching a video from the baseline drive.

The results show that visual occlusion, especially in combination with eye tracking, was appropriate for assessing spare capacity. The think aloud protocol was appropriate to gain insight about the driver's actual mental representation of the situation at hand. Expert judgement in the laboratory was not reliable for the assessment of drivers' attentional distribution in traffic. Across all assessment techniques, it is evident that meaningful assessment of attention in a dynamic traffic situation can only be achieved when the infrastructure layout, surrounding road users, and intended manoeuvres are taken into account. This requires advanced instrumentation of the vehicle, and subsequent data reduction, analysis and interpretation are demanding. In conclusion, driver attention assessment in real traffic is a complex task, but a combination of visual occlusion, eye tracking and thinking aloud is a promising combination of methods to come further on the way. .

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