New eye-tracking technology shows how distracted drivers behave at busy intersections

With cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles all sharing the road, drivers can often be distracted, endangering themselves and other road users.

Data shows drivers fail most frequently at checking for cyclists

University of Toronto researcher Birsen Donmez said she and her team created a new technology that will assess whether or not drivers adequately watch out for vulnerable road users at intersections. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

Toronto's major intersections can be dangerous. With cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles all sharing the road, drivers can often be distracted, endangering themselves and other road users. 

That's why a group of University of Toronto students are using a high-tech eye-tracking device to better understand what drivers see when they navigate through busy intersections. 

"We are tracking where the person is fixating [their] eyes," said Birsen Donmez, a researcher at the University of Toronto's faculty of applied science and engineering. 

Drivers fail most frequently at checking for cyclists, data shows

Ultimately, with the eye tracker researchers can observe drivers' behaviour while simultaneously keeping tabs on where their attention is focused. 

"Drivers are under high demands to divide their attention and they're not always able to," Donmez said, adding that drivers frequently fail to do an over-the-shoulder check for oncoming cyclists. Indeed, it was the most common failure on the part of drivers that have taken part in the research. 

CBC's Greg Ross tested the eye goggles Friday. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)
 

"This was very visible in the recorded data," she said.​

Graduate student Nazli Kaya checks footage of the drivers for how often they check their side mirrors, rearview mirrors and blind spot. 

"Are you checking the cyclists, are you checking the pedestrians and are you checking the other vehicles?" are all questions driver should be asking themselves, Kaya said. 

According to police, 21 pedestrians and three cyclists have been killed in collisions with drivers on Toronto roads already this year.

According to Donmez, 40 per cent of all crashes happen at intersections, and 70 per cent of collision involving pedestrians or cyclists occur at intersections. 

Graduate student Nazli Kaya tracking the data gathered during CBC Toronto's test run of the new technology. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)
 

With files from Greg Ross