Attention Overload and What It Means for Road Safety


Intersection in Toronto.
Photo by Omar Quazi on Unsplash

A new study has been launched out of the University of Toronto that seeks to get some definitive answers to the question - why are intersection collisions so frequent and so deadly?


The theory that this new study is looking to prove is that intersections are placed where drivers are undergoing attention overload, in the form of an excessive amount of information that they need to absorb, from navigating around other vehicles to traffic lights, pedestrians, and more. As individual drivers and road users are overloaded with information, the researchers believe the environment becomes high-risk for everyone involved.


"Canadian and international studies show that driver inattention is a leading cause for collisions with pedestrians and cyclists - including those who were later identified as having right of way."

But how do you test the theory that a person is being overloaded with information and therefore more likely to make a deadly error? The answer is some fairly innovative technology.


The team of researchers at the University of Toronto will be conducting tests with real drivers while using eye-tracking equipment. The eye-tracking equipment will log every movement the driver's eyes make at intersections. The research team says this will help "better understand the interplay between driver attention, infrastructure design and collisions."


This latest study is an exciting development in the realm of research into collision causes and driver behaviour in stressful and potentially deadly situations. There is still a great deal more we can learn about why drivers behave in certain ways in certain situations. For those of us who drive on a regular basis, driving can come to feel routine and intuitive, but the reality is that driving is an incredibly complex task, engaging different parts of the brain and a wide-range of abilities. Studies like this that has launched at the University of Toronto can shed necessary light on just how involved of a task driving is.


And while the study is still only just beginning, it has the potential to suggest concrete solutions to a real problem.


For more on the University of Toronto's new study, check out the original article in U of T News.