The Effects of Severe Visual Challenges on Steering Performance in Visually Healthy Young Drivers

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Purpose:Two experiments explored the extent to which induced blur, reduced luminance, and reduced visual fields affect drivers' steering performance in a driving simulator.Methods:In experiment 1, ten young participants (M = 21.2 years) drove at approximately 89 km/h (55 mph) along a curvy roadway while being exposed to blur (0 to + 10 D), luminance (0.003 to 16.7 cd/m2), and visual field (1.7 and 150°) manipulations. In experiment 2, a new group of ten young participants (M = 18.5 years) drove while exposed to seven visual field sizes (1.7 to 150°).Results:Steering was sensitive to a reduced field size but not to the blur and luminance challenges. Acuity, on the other hand, was sensitive to the blur and luminance challenges but not to reduced field size.Discussion:In healthy young drivers, steering performance is remarkably robust to severe blur and to extremely low luminances. These results support a key element of the selective degradation hypothesis advanced by Leibowitz and colleagues – that steering abilities are preserved at night even when the ability to recognize objects and hazards is not. Additional research should address the other element of this hypothesis – that drivers fail to appreciate the extent to which their visual abilities are degraded at night.

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