Our research has shown that drivers on the phone can look directly at a hazard yet fail to see it, as their attention is allocated elsewhere. This means that a driver with both hands on the steering wheel and both eyes on the road can have significantly impaired hazard detection ability due to inattention blindness.
See Is multitasking a myth? for more details.
We are able to draw these conclusions because we have carried out experiments where we tracked the eye movements of drivers as they completed hazard detection tests. Not only did we find inattention blindness, but we also discovered that the eye movement patterns of phone using drivers were different from those who weren’t on the phone.
Undistracted drivers looked around the scene far more than those on the phone. Drivers on the phone tended to focus their eyes on a highly centralised point of the scene, usually just above the car bonnet. They made very few glances to the sides of the scene, and even if a hazard occurred where their eyes were mainly focused (in the centre of the scene) they were unlikely to notice it. Distracted drivers looked at an area of the scene 4 times smaller than undistracted drivers. We call this ‘visual tunnelling’.
You can find out more detail on this research and our other work over on the blog.
Having read about our research findings why not try our interactive test and check your skills. This short interactive activity is based on our research and allows you to see how well you can multitask
Check for yourself here!