Steer clear of a car crash

Are you looking forward to passing your driving test and getting behind the wheel? If you are in the process of learning to drive, chances are that after your first year of driving on your red P plates you’ll end up doing what’s known as a hazard perception test. The Queensland version of the test was designed by a team led by Associate Professor Mark Horswill in the School of Psychology here at UQ.

The hazard perception test is a digital assessment that Provisional 1 drivers, aged 23 or under, must pass in order to progress to their Provisional 2 licence. To complete the test you must watch video clips of real traffic situations filmed from the perspective of the driver. The driver must use the computer mouse to click on any road obstacles or hazards that could potentially cause danger to the car filmed in the footage. The test measures how early you can predict these potential hazards.

The idea for the hazard perception test came from research into accidents, and the analysis of drivers who were able to successfully pick up on hazard clues and traffic conflicts. A driver who is good at hazard perception has a sophisticated understanding of the road environment, including being aware of what other road users are likely to do and what might happen next.

The UQ team found that drivers’ scores in the Queensland hazard perception test could predict how many crashes they had both before and after taking the test. For example, those people who failed the test were 25 per cent more likely to be involved in a crash where their vehicle was moving (not counting parking or reversing) in the year following their test.

The bad news is that it typically takes a driver around 30 years to become highly skilled at hazard perception. The good news is that, with the right training techniques, the team has found that this learning period of decades can potentially be compressed into an hour or so.

The team are currently developing a free online hazard perception training course that they hope to make available (for PC users) soon. They have a fleet of 50 cars with g-force activated dashcams currently driving around Queensland collecting footage of hair-raising traffic events for use in this course. The team estimates that people who take the course will gain the equivalent of several centuries of driving experience and should end up being substantially less likely to be injured in a car crash.

Last updated:
7 July 2016