Experienced drivers are not only better skilled at the actions of driving, but learn to perceive and attend to the road in a different way
We found that novices eye-movements were different from those of the more experienced drivers in several ways, though the extent of scanning on a particular section of dual carriageway was particularly limited. We have since examined this effect in the laboratory using video-based stimuli replicating the same impoverished scanning in novice drivers (e.g. Underwood, Chapman, Bowden, & Crundall, 2002).
We have also further explored why this might be the case, examining the possibility of whether this was due to the novice drivers having a deficient mental model or whether they were simply overloaded by the requirement to control the car (a process which requires less attention with increased experience), and found that even when car-control demands were eliminated, the effect persisted (Underwood et al., 2002).
Another aspect that appears to be important in understanding this effect is the extent of the inexperienced drivers’ peripheral attention (Crundall, Underwood, & Chapman, 1999, 2002). We found that the less experienced drivers have a smaller field of peripheral vision, and are more likely to miss even abrupt onsets. This is especially the case when they are focusing on something that is potentially dangerous.
For example if the car ahead brakes suddenly, a novice driver will focus so much attention on that car that they may miss the errant cyclist emerging from the side road. More experienced drivers have a wider spread of peripheral attention however, and this appears to be linked to their spread of search.
The paragraph is an excerpt from a commentary on an interesting article on the relevance of lab studies to the real world from the latest edition of the British Journal of Psychology. I’ll post more about the main article shortly, but this snippet just caught my attention, if you’ll excuse the pun.
Link to PubMed entry for commentary paper.