Wandering gaze of drivers caught out by eye-tracking technology

A NEW scientific study of driver behaviour commissioned by Direct Line car insurance reveals that drivers spend 18 per cent of their time behind the wheel not watching the road at all.

Instead, they gaze at clouds, scenery, adverts and other non-driving related distractions, on average taking their eyes off the road every nine seconds.

The study, which used eye-tracking technology to record drivers’ eye movements, found motorists using sat nav devices were even more distracted, with 22 per cent of their time focussed away from the road.

The study shows that drivers with a sat nav have their eyes fixed on this screen and, therefore, not looking at the road, for 12 per cent of their total journey time. That is almost four times as long as the average driver spends checking their mirrors (3.2 per cent) and six times longer than they spend observing oncoming traffic (two per cent).

For a driver travelling from London to Brighton, a journey of an hour and 90 minutes, that is equivalent to 11 minutes with their eyes fixed purely on their sat nav screen.

According to the study, the average motorist spends seven per cent of their time on the road gazing at clouds and scenery and 0.8 per cent of their time observing adverts. In contrast, just two per cent of their time is spent actually looking at oncoming vehicles and 0.6 per cent observing road signs.

Motorists spend the same amount of time (three per cent) watching pedestrians - who were neither on or crossing the road - as they did checking their mirrors. While both men and women appear to have been distracted by good-looking pedestrians, only men turned their heads completely away from the road as a result.

Simon Henrick, spokesman for Direct Line car insurance, said: “For the first time we know exactly where people focus their eyes when driving and the results are frightening.

“Even when drivers appear to be watching the road, by tracking movements in the cornea we now know they are often watching clouds or shop window displays.

“It is important that every time a driver gets behind the wheel that they concentrate for the whole journey, otherwise they risk injuring themselves and others.”

Direct Line’s eye-tracking experiment saw participants wearing specialist glasses that pinpoint the exact focus of the eye by tracking microscopic movements in the cornea. The experiment was captured on film and enabled researchers to establish exactly where drivers focused their vision.

Video evidence also revealed drivers engaging in dangerous behaviours, such as changing between two sat nav devices and gazing down at a mobile phone held in their lap to navigate.

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