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‘Visual clutter’ and
external-to-vehicle driver distraction.
New highway developments, roadside advertisements and street-side vendors, and increased traffic flow combine to increase the amount of visual information presented to drivers from outside the vehicle. The objective of this paper is to investigate the possibilities for driver distraction from these external-to-vehicle sources of information. The first section will review previous research applicable to the external distraction problem, including studies of crash data, on-road investigations and laboratory experiments. The second section will describe research recently conducted at the Monash University Accident Research Centre into ‘visual clutter’ and its effect on drivers. A series of focus groups was conducted with drivers aged 18 to 60. A total of 54 drivers participated in one of six groups. Each group was asked to describe what visual clutter is, what are its most common forms in the road environment, and how (if at all) it affects their driving. They also discussed two different road scenes in detail. Results revealed a strong connection between the perceived levels of visual clutter in a scene and the level of attention drivers felt would be required to drive safely along the road in that scene. Drivers felt that they would be more stressed and more likely to be distracted from the driving task when driving down roads with high levels of visual clutter. The implications of these findings for the study of visual clutter and driver distraction are discussed.