Effects of reduced contrast on the perception and control of speed when driving
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Misperception of speed under low-contrast conditions has been identified as a possible contributor to motor vehicle crashes in fog. To test this hypothesis, we investigated the effects of reduced contrast on drivers’ perception and control of speed while driving under real-world conditions. Fourteen participants drove around a 2.85 km closed road course under three visual conditions: clear view and with two levels of reduced contrast created by diffusing filters on the windscreen and side windows. Three dependent measures were obtained, without view of the speedometer, on separate laps around the road course: verbal estimates of speed; adjustment of speed to instructed levels (25 to 70 km h-1); and estimation of minimum stopping distance. The results showed that drivers traveled more slowly under low-contrast conditions. Reduced contrast had little or no effect on either verbal judgments of speed or estimates of minimum stopping distance. Speed adjustments were significantly slower under low-contrast than clear conditions, indicating that, contrary to studies of object motion, drivers perceived themselves to be traveling faster under conditions of reduced contrast. Under real-world driving conditions, drivers’ ability to perceive and control their speed was not adversely affected by large variations in the contrast of their surroundings. These findings suggest that perceptions of self-motion and object motion involve neural processes that are differentially affected by variations in stimulus contrast as encountered in fog.
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