Minimum Required Attention: A Human-Centered Approach to Driver Inattention

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Objective: To propose a driver attention theory based on the notion of driving as a satisficing and partially self-paced task and, within this framework, present a definition for driver inattention.

Background: Many definitions of driver inattention and distraction have been proposed, but they are difficult to operationalize, and they are either unreasonably strict and inflexible or suffer from hindsight bias.

Method: Existing definitions of driver distraction are reviewed and their shortcomings identified. We then present the minimum required attention (MiRA) theory to overcome these shortcomings. Suggestions on how to operationalize MiRA are also presented.

Results: MiRA describes which role the attention of the driver plays in the shared "situation awareness of the traffic system." A driver is considered attentive when sampling sufficient information to meet the demands of the system, namely, that he or she fulfills the preconditions to be able to form and maintain a good enough mental representation of the situation. A driver should only be considered inattentive when information sampling is not sufficient, regardless of whether the driver is concurrently executing an additional task or not.

Conclusions: The MiRA theory builds on well-established driver attention theories. It goes beyond available driver distraction definitions by first defining what a driver needs to be attentive to, being free from hindsight bias, and allowing the driver to adapt to the current demands of the traffic situation through satisficing and self-pacing. MiRA has the potential to provide the stepping stone for unbiased and operationalizable inattention detection and classification.

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