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The University of Sussex

 8 Aug 2001 

How learner drivers see the road ahead

All experienced road users know the feeling. You've just driven a long distance and have no recollection of anything about the journey.

Now a study comparing learner drivers with experienced motorists could explain how quickly we develop the skills to drive without consciously thinking of what we are doing.

Cath Hughes, a postgraduate researcher in neuroscience at the University of Sussex, has been monitoring the eye movements of road novices and seasoned motorists. "Experienced drivers appear to have an underlying pattern of eye movements for tasks such as turning a corner or pulling out of a junction," she says. "All the information needed to adjust steering and speed can be obtained within a matter of seconds and drivers make these manoeuvres without thinking about them."

But after analysing the eye movements of a learner driver, using a special head-mounted camera that monitors both eye movements and the scene ahead, she says it is clear these skills come only with time.

Miss Hughes carried out the analysis on Sussex student Gustav Kuhn, whose task during his first lesson was to drive around a pond in the village of Falmer, close to the University. She found that, initially, Mr Kuhn kept his field of vision narrow. "Basically he only looked at his controls and a bit of the road ahead," says Miss Hughes. By comparison, an experienced driver made much wider eye movements, as well as going faster. By his third lesson, however, Gustav had widened his field of vision and had picked up speed.

Miss Hughes' work is being supervised by Sussex neuroscientist Professor Mike Land, who first developed the eye monitoring technology to find out how people developed hand-to-eye coordination in a variety of tasks, from making tea to playing the piano.

She says the results of her study could have important implications for road safety. "By understanding more about eye movement patterns, we might be able to understand why some road signs are completely ignored or how drivers are distracted by what they see."

 Notes for editors 

For further information, please contact Jacqui Bealing, or Alison Field, University of Sussex Press Office, Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 877456, email or

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