Prevention of coordinated eye movements and steering impairs driving performance

Abstract

When approaching a bend in the road, a driver looks across to the inside kerb before turning the steering wheel. Eye movements and steering are tightly linked, with the eyes leading, which means that the oculomotor controller can assist the neural centres controlling steering. This optimum coordination is observed for all drivers; but despite being the preferred solution to the motor-control problem of successfully steering along a winding road, the question remains as to how crucial such coordinated eye and steering movements are for driving performance. Twenty subjects repeatedly drove a simulated stage of the World Rally Championship, aiming to complete the course in the fastest possible time. For the first six repetitions they used the usual coordination of eye movements and steering; for drives 7–12 they were instructed to fixate on a small spot in the centre of the screen (centre gaze). Prevention of coordination in this way impaired their performance (drives 6 and 7 compared), dramatically increasing their time taken to complete the course, equivalent to slipping 19 places down the leader board in the actual rally stage. This indicates that the usual pattern of eye movements correlated with steering is crucial for driving performance. Further experiments are suggested to reveal whether any attentional demand associated with keeping the eyes still contributes to the loss in performance.

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Acknowledgements

Mark Chattington was supported by an IRM PhD studentship, and Damian Keil by an IRM research fellowship. Steve Gilbey and Darryl Knights provided expert technical assistance, including building the driving simulator and providing data acquisition and analysis programs.

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Correspondence to D. E. Marple-Horvat.

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Marple-Horvat, D.E., Chattington, M., Anglesea, M. et al. Prevention of coordinated eye movements and steering impairs driving performance. Exp Brain Res 163, 411–420 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-004-2192-7

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Keywords

  • Eye movements
  • Steering
  • Driving
  • Performance
  • Impaired