Conference Proceeding

Allocating Visual Attention: How Relevance to Driving Impacts Attention when 
Drivers are Distracted



Use of cell phones while driving, and safety implications thereof, has captured public and scientific interest. Previous research has shown that driver reactions and visual attention are impacted by cell phone use, even when a handsfree device is used. In addition to these effects, Strayer and colleagues also found lower recognition for items present in the driving environment when drivers were using a cellular phone than when not using the phone. Strayer and colleagues used recognition as their primary measure of attention. Relevance to driving may have an impact on how attention is allocated to the environment via eye movements, separate from the impact on recognition memory. The current project used a medium-fidelity driving simulator to extend previous research by investigating how attention is allocated across driving-relevant and -irrelevant objects in the environment. Driving-relevant objects consisted of signs and potential hazards. Driving-irrelevant objects were billboards. Eye movement patterns (primarily measured by number of gazes) were impacted by distraction, and the pattern of gazes also differed across relevance levels, with hazards receiving the most gazes, and signs receiving the fewest. When only considering driving-relevant objects (i.e., signs vs. hazards), the eye movement measures showed an interaction between distraction and relevance. Signs received fewer gazes when drivers were distracted, whereas there was no comparable decrease in gazes to hazards.


How to Cite: Garrison, T. (2011) “Allocating Visual Attention: How Relevance to Driving Impacts Attention when 
Drivers are Distracted”, Driving Assessment Conference. 6(2011). doi: