Reading the Situation: The Relationship Between Dyslexia and Situational Awareness for Road Sign Information

A recent study suggests situational awareness instruction may be doubly important for novice drivers with dyslexia.

There have been many studies which agree that beginner drivers are at the highest risk for accidents on the road, but a recent study conducted by Benjamin Taylor, Eugene Chekaluk, and Julia Irwin from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia published in the Transportation Research Part F Traffic Psychology and Behavior journal (January 2016 36:6-16) suggests that novice drivers with dyslexia have extra reason to be cautious.

While it is important for drivers of any age to have acute visual attention to the road, young drivers (who have the weakest situation awareness while on the road) should be especially attentive. The three-level process of situation awareness—perception, comprehension, projection—and its possible negative association to dyslexia was the focus of Taylor et al.’s study and their article “Reading the Situation: The relationship between dyslexia and situational awareness for road sign information.”

Dyslexics have a weakened ability to quickly understand linguistic signs, which this study tested to see if it would affect their comprehension of road signs. The 62 participants in this study were given the ADC, Adult Dyslexia Checklist, to measure their reading ability. Then they were asked to complete a road sign comprehension test, followed by a driving simulator test, and multiple test drives through urban, rural, and suburban areas. Afterwards, the participants were tested on their situation awareness during these drives.

The results of this study showed that novice drivers with dyslexia had a “perceptual lag” while processing road signs, which suggests that novice, dyslexic drivers might be more prone to driving accidents because it takes dyslexics drivers more time to process the road sign’s signal. This perceptual lag is a weakness in the driver’s projection of their situation awareness—their ability to respond to the road sign. This study noted that this projection weakness was not true for pictorial signs or for drivers with over one year of experience.

The researchers of this study conclude their article by advocating for the importance of instructing situation awareness to novice drivers. They propose a heuristic that be taught to novice drivers in order to stress the importance of situation awareness, SAFE:

  1. Process the meaning of the Sign (S)
  2. Assess the likelihood of an accident (A)
  3. Increase their Focus (F)
  4. Execute the appropriate driving maneuvers (E)

Learn more about the Reading the Situation study.