Automated vehicles are expected to be on the road in the near future and several large companies such as Google and Nissan have been extensively testing autonomous vehicles. One aim of automation is to improve road safety by reducing human involvement in the driving task. Automation will also allow drivers to engage in non-driving tasks as they travel. Whilst this might offer drivers the chance to use their time more effectively, completing a non-driving task leads to the “out of the loop” problem whereby a driver loses their awareness of the driving situation. It takes time to regain control of the vehicle and re-focus attention back on the road when required, therefore raising safety concerns if automation was disrupted.
Currently there is limited research focusing on the psychological mechanisms involved in switching between a non-driving task and manual driving, therefore limited understanding of how to reduce the costs associated with being out of the loop. This project measured the importance of attentional control when switching from a non-driving task to a driving task, focusing on an effect termed “attentional inertia”. This is defined as the allocation of attention to previously-relevant objects and locations (i.e. from the non-driving task) at the expense of currently-relevant objects and locations (i.e. from the driving task).
Whilst attentional inertia has been found repeatedly in relatively simplistic studies, when testing the effect in a more dynamic set-up we found no evidence that engagement in a non-driving task influenced hazard perception. Findings did however show that individual differences in attentional control may influence switching, suggesting that some drivers may be more at risk when using automated driver support systems.
This project has now finished however Maryam and Catherine are continuing to study individual differences in attentional inertia. Their work also links to a new project that explores attitudes and perceptions of automated vehicles. This project is a collaboration between Dr Catherine Thompson and Dr Maria Panagiotidi in Psychology and Dr Meisam Babaie and Dr Tooska Dargahi in the School of Science, Engineering and Environment. The work will be completed in two stages, the first being a large questionnaire study to gain an understanding of attitudes to automated vehicles. In the second stage a small group of participants will be invited to take a journey in the University of Salford’s Navya automated shuttle bus, and we will measure attitudes towards commuting in an automated vehicle before and after the journey to determine whether experience can affect acceptance of automation. This research aims to identify barriers to the use of automated vehicles and will assess whether these barriers can be overcome with increased experience.
Funder: British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant
Team: Dr Catherine Thompson and Maryam Jalali