Vision and driving: selective effect of optical blur on different driving tasks
A test of static (high-contrast) visual acuity is the most prevalent vision test used to screen driver license applicants worldwide, even though research has largely failed to provide convincing empirical evidence for its role in traffic accidents. The purpose of this research was to evaluate the effect of visual acuity degradation on different components of the driving task. Participants were 24 young licensed drivers (15 men, 9 women) with normal vision. Driving performance was measured while participants wore modified swimmer's goggles to which blurring lenses were affixed in amounts necessary to produce binocular visual acuity levels of 20/20, 20/40 (the prevalent acuity standard for driving), 20/100, and 20/200. Driving performance was measured using the closed-road method of Wood and Troutbeck (1994). Acuity degradation produced significant decrements in road sign recognition and road hazard avoidance as well as significant increments in total driving time. Participants' abilities to estimate whether clearances between pairs of traffic cones were sufficiently wide to permit safe passage of the vehicle and to slalom through a series of traffic cones were relatively unaffected by acuity degradation. Thus the latter tasks appear to be mediated by aspects of central and peripheral vision that are relatively unaffected by optical blur. Potential applications of this type of research include the development of procedures for defining empirically justifiable vision standards for driver licensure.
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