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Human Performance and Road Risk Management

By Dr Lisa Dorn, Founder of PsyDrive

This blog is the fourth in the series to introduce the topics covered in the five modules as part of the 2-day online Human Factors in Road Risk Management CIEHF accredited course. For the third module, delegates are introduced to Human Performance and the factors that affect human performance abilities and limitations. We start the module by considering that Human Performance is about what people do and how they carry out their tasks. Driving or riding is an extremely complex task requiring successful operation of several diverse psychological processes, including learning, memory, perception, motor control, attention and decision making.

Constant streams of information

As a road user, you are bombarded by numerous sources of information with much of the Information streams being processed via your visual system. How do road users attend to the road and in-vehicle systems? How do we select critical information to attend to? Attentional capacity is limited and not all information is passed to the relevant area of the brain to be processed and many crashes are categorized as ‘looked but failed to see’. The frequency with which information is sampled depends on complexity of the road environment, sight distance, curviness, lane width etc. Many aspects of the task must be monitored including speed, automated systems, lane tracking, other road users etc. In a familiar environment, a road user may not check signage or actively search for hazards. With experience, human performance in a vehicle becomes more automatic and less effortful, but humans are still prone to error and committing violations no matter how well trained or experienced they are.

Models and theories of attention

Several models and theories of attention describe how we select information from our world in almost every step from sensory processing to decision making and consciousness. These models explain how we process information as a road user. An attentive road user should have good situational awareness about the current road and traffic situation, including the capability to predict how it might develop. The road user must possess knowledge about how, when, and from where to sample new information to stay updated in real time. This has been described as the road user’s “mental model” or “situation awareness”. It is used to predict one’s travel path in relation to objects and the likely trajectories of others, which includes anticipation. Humans have “spare capacity,” meaning that road users have time to attend to other tasks that are not relevant for driving. If spare capacity is available, it can either be used to sample or process additional traffic relevant information, “rest mentally” or to execute additional tasks. Performing secondary tasks such as using a mobile phone can increase the risk of crash involvement as road users become distracted.

PsyDrive is Specialist provider of professional training, research, assessment, and interventions for improved road safety.


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