Purpose. Visual impairment, resulting from ocular abnormalities or brain lesions, can significantly affect driving performance. The impact of vestibulopathy on head–eye coordination is also a concern in vehicle operation safety, yet to date there has been little functional research in this area. An understanding of decrements in driving ability resulting from visual and vestibular pathology, plus the differences in visual strategies used by novice and experienced drivers, would benefit from an objective analysis of head–eye coordination during vehicle operation.
Methods. We have developed a laptop-based system for measuring eye, head, and vehicle movement in real time. Digital video cameras mounted on lightweight swimming goggles are used to provide images of the eye and scene, allowing assessment of gaze. In addition, the use of inertial measurement units to simultaneously transduce head and vehicle movement allows us to evaluate the vestibular contribution to stable vision.
Results. Data was obtained from a flight simulator and while driving a car. During banking turns in the flight simulator, there was a sustained roll tilt of the head and eyes toward the scene-derived visual vertical with a combined gain of approximately 25%. One of the most complex visual tasks when driving was exiting a multistory car park, which involved the scanning of hundreds of parked vehicles with an average fixation time of approximately 100 ms. The vertical vestibulo-ocular reflex was also found to make a significant contribution to the maintenance of dynamic visual acuity even while driving on paved surfaces.
Conclusion. These results demonstrate the viability of functional assessment of head–eye coordination during vehicle operation, and potential applications of this technology to driver assessment are discussed. Analysis of both active and reflex contributions to gaze may provide a clearer understanding of the impact of visual and vestibular impairment on driving ability.