Eye Movements and Hazard Perception in Police Pursuit and Emergency Response Driving

  • Published: J. Experimental Psychology: Applied, Volume 9, No. 3, 2003
  • Authors: D. Crundall, P. Chapman, N. Phelps, and G. Underwood
  • Date Added: 13 Jun 2013
  • Last Update: 13 Jun 2013
  • Format: pdf


To compare the hazard ratings, eye movements, and physiological responses of police drivers with novice and with age-matched control drivers.


This study compared the hazard ratings, eye movements, and physiological responses of police drivers with novice and with age-matched control drivers while viewing video clips of driving taken from police vehicles. The clips included pursuits, emergency responses, and control drives.

Key Findings:

  • Police pursuit driving has previously been defined as “an active attempt by a law enforcement officer operating a motor vehicle with emergency equipment to apprehend a suspected law violator in a motor vehicle, when the driver of the vehicle in question attempts to avoid apprehension” (Alpert, 1987, p. 299).

  • This activity can be extremely dangerous to both parties involved in the pursuit and the general public.

  • Recent statistics and some high profile incidents in the United Kingdom have highlighted a rise in police-driver RTIs.

  • Sir Alistair Graham, chairman of the U.K. Police Complaints Authority, recently commented on a 178 per cent increase in fatalities involving police pursuits, which he described as “totally unacceptable. . . . Police forces must take urgent steps to meet the rising tide of public concern” (Police Complaints Authority,2001, p. 3).

  • In 2002 the U.K. Police Complaints Authority published a report investigating road traffic RTIs involving police vehicles. They reported that in the 9 months preceding the publication of the study there were 30 fatalities resulting from police pursuits. Compared with the nine deaths that occurred in the 12-month period covering 1997–1998, this represents an increase of 344 per cent in police pursuit fatalities over a period of time during which road usage only increased by 4.7 per cent.

  • There has been relatively little research undertaken on the behavioural factors that impinge on police driving with a view to reducing the number of RTIs.

  • Although police drivers did not report more hazards than the other participants reported, they had an increased frequency of electrodermal responses (response to stress or anxiety measured in the skin) while viewing dangerous clips and a greater visual sampling rate and spread of search.

  • However, despite an overall police advantage in movement of their eyes and physiological measures, all drivers had a reduced spread of search in night time pursuits because of the focusing of overt attention.

  • Police drivers are generally more aware of their surroundings.

  • The present research has identified areas of concern regarding visual attention in prolonged hazardous situations, and future research must assess the implications of these findings for the safety of police drivers, the general public, and anywhere else it is possible to attempt to reduce any related risk.


Hazard perception, Police pursuit, Emergency response driving.


This research is concerned with video-based driving experience, real world testing was not used in this case.