Hazard perception and learner drivers: A theoretical discussion and an in-depth survey of driving instructors

Monash University Accident Research Centre – Report #161 - 1999

Authors: Emma S Fitzgerald; Warren A Harrison

Full report in .pdf format [388KB]


A study was undertaken to investigate the content of driver training and attitudes towards computerised testing of hazard perception skills using the introduction of the VicRoads Hazard Perception Test (HPT) as an example. A review of the literature regarding hazard perception was carried out and Klein's (1989, 1993) Recognition-Primed Decision Making Model was introduced as a basis for developing a better understanding of hazard perception as a cognitive process with behavioural outcomes. In-depth interviews with fifty driving instructors were undertaken to investigate the methods used to teach cognitive based driving skills, and to determine attitudes towards the computerised tests and the HPT. It was concluded that driving instructors were aware of the skills essential for safe driving, however these were not the traits they necessarily looked for when recommending that Learner Drivers attempt the Driver Licence test.

Executive Summary

The VicRoads Hazard Perception Test (HPT) was introduced as part of Victoria's graduated licensing scheme. The HPT is an example of computerised assessment of hazard perception skills and its introduction was used as an opportunity to assess the attitudes of driving instructors to this type of test, the effect its introduction has on the instructional behaviour of instructors, and instructors' understanding of hazard perception as a novice driver issue. There is evidence that novice drivers do not perform as well as more experienced drivers on hazard perception tasks, which may have implications for the safety of young drivers if hazard perception skills can be improved.

A hazard has been described as any aspect of the road environment or any combination of circumstances on the road that an individual perceives to be dangerous. The term "hazard behaviour" was introduced in this report to describe the perception of a hazard, information processing, and the resulting behaviour. It was considered that perceiving a hazard or potential hazard is only likely to aid the safety of road users if the behavioural response to the hazard is appropriate and timely.

In-depth interviews with fifty driving instructors were conducted to investigate their approach to training learner drivers and their attitude towards computerised hazard perception testing and the Victorian Hazard Perception Test in particular. This project provided an opportunity to investigate the attitudes of instructors to computer-graphics based tests of hazard perception in general in addition to the specific test used in Victoria. It was considered that the success of the this approach to hazard perception testing would depend, in part, on the specific attitudes of instructors towards the test and, in a broader sense, on their attitudes towards cognitive skill development amongst learner drivers.

Driving instructors identified many of the cognitively based skills which are identified in the young driver literature. Twenty percent of the driving instructors interviewed rated hazard perception skills as the most important skill for Learner drivers to learn in order to become safer. Instructors generally used a combination of explanation and practice as their teaching method.

Driving instructors were able to recommend a number of methods for assessing hazard perception skills besides the current computer based test, including in-car testing. At the time the interviews were conducted, driving instructors held a neutral attitude towards the Hazard Perception Test.

Sponsoring Organisation: Baseline Research Program - Department of Justice, Transport Accident Commission, Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV) Ltd, VicRoads.