Overview of Novice Driver Performance Issues - A Literature Review

Monash University Accident Research Centre - Report #9 - 1989

Author: A. Drummond

Full report in .pdf format [430KB]

Abstract:

The over-involvement of young and/or inexperienced drivers in road accidents is a well established international phenomenon. Measures designed to make novice drivers safer per kilometre driven rather than reduce the number of kilometres they drive have failed to achieve positive outcomes. This report presents an applied literature review, designed to suggest future directions for the development of measures to improve novice driver performance.

The report deals with the issues of age versus experience, licensing age, the driving task and models of driving behaviour and correlates of accident involved young drivers to provide important background information. The suggested future directions have been principally drawn from the sections on perceptual skills, hazard/risk perception, the cognitive domain, risk taking and information processing and resource allocation issues. It is suggested that it is only when the differences between concurrently performed skills in capacity allocation (a reflection perhaps of different priorities or differing degrees of validity in the driving schema) and the effects of skill interactions as a function of driving experience are known that valid decisions on skills based countermeasures can be made.

Executive Summary

The over-involvement of young and/or inexperienced drivers in road accidents is a well established international phenomenon. It has also shown itself to be one of the most intractable road safety problems, reflecting perhaps the complexity of the problem relative to other road safety issues. Measures designed to make novice drivers safer per kilometre driven rather than reduce the number of kilometres they drive have invariably failed to achieve positive outcomes. This is due in no small part to the fact that there is little empirical or theoretical indication as to what constitutes safe driving. It is therefore important to view the novice driver problem in a wider context.

An appropriate framework for novice driver safety revolves around the interaction of the following global factors;

  • the skilled performance literature indicates that novices perform significantly worse than their more experienced counterparts for a variety of reasons associated with the nature of information processing
  • there is mounting evidence that the riskiness of novice driver driving cannot be fully explained by skill decrements and that there is a motivational component contributing to their over-representation in accident statistics.

This report deals firstly with the issues of age versus experience (Section 3.0), licensing age (Section 4.0), the driving task and models of driving behaviour (Section 5.0), driver education and training (Section 6.0) and correlates of accident involved young drivers (Section 7.0) to provide important background information. This was an applied literature review, designed to suggest future directions for the development of measures to improve novice driver safety. It is principally from the remaining sections (perceptual skills, hazard/risk perception, the cognitive domain, risk taking and information processing and resource allocation issues) that this has been achieved.

Low risk on-road behaviour basically requires three things;

  • the acquisition of necessary skills
  • the ability to apply these skills efficiently and effectively when operating on the road and in traffic
  • the willingness or motivation to apply these skills when operating on the road and in traffic.

The first two points relate to a skilled performance focus and represent the suggested future direction for novice driver countermeasures, primarily for pragmatic reasons in that it is considered to be potentially more productive in the short to medium term. Our understanding of general attitudinal components underlying age/experience related factors in driving (the third point) is still at a primitive level; safety measures derived from work in this area are a longer term undertaking.

The literature provides evidence (to varying degrees) of the following skilled performance differences between novice and experienced drivers;

  • novice drivers may have difficulties in judging gap clearance and closure speeds
  • novice drivers have a smaller scanning range than experienced drivers and obtain less information from peripheral vision
  • novice drivers look closer to the front of the car use vehicle @ors less frequently as a means of obtaining visual information young drivers identify distant hazards relatively poorly
  • young drivers tend to associate higher levels of hazard with non-moving factors whereas experienced drivers perceive moving objects as more hazardous
  • inexperienced drivers have more difficulty in integrating diverse information into an overall assessment of hazardousness
  • young drivers underestimate the risk of accident involvement and overestimate their driving ability
  • indirect evidence suggests that young drivers may commit performance errors due to a failure to switch attention or because they revert to less efficient ways of processing information
  • the novice driver is both less efficient and less effective in attentional distribution
  • indirect evidence suggests that inexperienced drivers have fewer responses available to them when deciding what to do; response unavailability may be the most important factor in ineffective decision making.

However, this information is not sufficient by itself to develop novice driver safety measures as there is no guarantee that equipping novice drivers with any one or more of the above skills means that they will actually be able to apply them when operating on the road. Actual performance is the outcome of an interaction between the absolute level of skill and the ability to perform this skill as one component. The latter aspect relates to the concept of resource (or capacity) allocation and the timesharing characteristics of complex skilled performance.

Thus, this report has strongly emphasised the driving of novice drivers in terms of schemas, plan or strategies. Any particular driving related skill is not performed in isolation (and therefore skills based countermeasures cannot be developed in isolation); rather, it is the outcome of multiple skill performance (i.e. the application of the driving schema) that contributes to safe, or otherwise, on-road behaviour.

The suggested future directions for novice driver safety research reflect these two factors directly by seeking answers to two fundamental questions;

  • how do the priorities/models of driving vary, primarily in terms of efficiency and bias, as a function of driving experience and level of demand? That is, is the skilled performance of novice drivers differentially affected by concurrent tasks, and in these circumstances, do they favour different classes of skills (at the expense of others)?
  • what are the most relatively important components of safe driving (operationalised as differences between experienced and inexperienced drivers), the acquisition of which should be accelerated to improve novice driver safety?

It is only when the differences between concurrently performed skills in capacity allocation (a reflection perhaps of different priorities or differing degrees of validity in the driving schema) and the effects of skill interactions as a function of driving experience are known that valid decisions on skills based countermeasures can be made.

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