School of Psychology

Accident Research Unit


Safer roads for all

The Accident Research Unit uses research in cognitive psychology to understand driving behaviour and the causes of accidents.

Researchers in the Accident Research Unit study the way road users are influenced by psychological factors such as attention, memory, emotion, and skill level. Researchers make use of three state-of-the-art driving research facilities including the Nottingham Integrated Transport and Environmental Simulation facility (NITES), as well as using other methods such as eye tracking, function near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), physiological measurements, and facial emotion detection.

Research Areas

  • Hazard Perception
  • Cross-cultural differences in driving
  • Examining the reasons behind motorcycle collisions
  • Eye movements in dangerous driving situations
  • The role of memory in driving
  • Attention and perception when driving

Recent projects and publications 

Recently funded projects include assessing an animated hazard perception test (Driving Standards Agency), examining the reasons behind motorcycle collisions (Department for Transport), designing a risk profiler for fleet motorcyclists (Honda), assessing truck driver risk (VOSA), and training learner drivers through the use of simulation (BSM and EPSRC).



David Clarke
Emertitus Professor of Psychology

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Peter Chapman
Associate Professor

I do research in applied cognitive psychology. My main area of application is the psychology of driving, while my more theoretical interests are in vision and memory. Some of my research actually fuses all three of these areas i.e. where do drivers look, and what do they remember after they have looked there? Some examples of the kind of research that I am involved in are provided below.

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Visual Search in Novice and Experienced Drivers

We have recorded the eye movements of large numbers of newly qualified drivers both while they are driving an instrumented vehicle and while they are watching videos of driving situations in the laboratory. These drivers seem to have very different search strategies to those used by drivers with five to ten years of traffic experience. We are investigating ways of training newly qualified drivers to use more effective visual search strategies.

Eye Movements in Dangerous Driving Situations

We have found that eye movements in dangerous situations are characterised by an increase in average fixation durations and a reduction in mean saccade length, and in spread of both horizontal and vertical search. These situations also produced particularly dramatic differences between novice and experienced drivers in their visual search strategies.

Memory for Accidents and Near Accidents

Our work on eye movements predicts that memory in dangerous situations should be best for central information and worst for peripheral details. Various memory studies have supported this conclusion. One of our more surprising findings is how often drivers completely forget their accidents and near accidents. Drivers seem to be particularly likely to forget about minor incidents when they did not feel personally responsible for the accident.

Attention and Memory Failures in Routine Tasks

One other surprising example of a memory failure in drivers is the "time gap experience". This is the common feeling of 'waking up' while driving to the realisation that you can't remember anything about the previous section of road. We have found that this type of experience is reported frequently both in driving and other everyday tasks. We also have some tentative evidence linking such experiences to involvement in road traffic accidents.

Traffic Accident Liability

The key practical question in the psychology of driving is to understand individual and situational factors which predict the occurrence of accidents. Some of the factors we have been particularly interested in are hazard perception ability, occurrence of anger while driving, tradeoffs between speed and accuracy, and general driving style as measured in an instrumented vehicle. One new area of interest is company car drivers and the types of accidents that they are involved in.

Harriet Allen

I measure the neural processes of combining sensory information. My recent research has found differences in the relationship between perception and attention in obesity, autism, and ageing and has applied this to human factors, vehicle design, and the everyday environment.

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I received my BSc and PhD from the University of Nottingham. My PhD investigated low level motion perception. During my BSc I spent a year working for the DRA on Human Factors of simulators and jet fighters.

After my PhD worked in Montreal, at McGill University, again looking at low level vision but this time investigating texture perception and amblyopia (lazy eye). I became interested in how higher level processes such as attention influence low level vision.

I returned to the Uk to spend several years at the University of Birmingham, including 5 as an RCUK fellow. I used behavioural measures and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to investigate the interaction of vision and attention through the adult life span.

I started at Nottingham in September 2011 and am investigating the interaction of attention with perception in multiple contexts including driving, low level and mid level vision and ignoring.

I'm particularly interested in how our brains represent things that we ignore. Do we process and then block these signals, or turn them down at source? Does it matter if we simply attend to something else or if we specifically choose to ignore an object. Do these processes get harder with age?

Chris Madan
Christopher Madan
Assistant Professor

I study memory using a combination of cognitive psychology, neuroimaging, and computational modeling methods. I am particularly interested in what factors makes some experiences more memorable than others (such as emotion, reward, and motor processing) and how these influences can manifest in future behavior, such as decision making.

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I also specialize in characterizing inter-individual differences in brain morphology, particularly with respect to aging, dementia, and cognitive abilities.

I conduct research across a variety of topics, including emotional memory, risky decision-making, and embodied cognition. I study these topics using behavioral paradigms, as well as fMRI, EEG, and structural MRI. Additionally, some studies involve computational modeling--either in the form of advanced statistical methods and machine learning, or through the development of specific models designed to distinguish between particular theoretical hypotheses.

Lizzy Sheppard
Assistant Professor

I have a wide range of research interests relating to Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and visual perception. I'm interested in cognitive processes involved in driving, including perceptual, attentional and decision-making processes.

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Autism spectrum disorders

At the moment I am particularly interested in how people with ASD make inferences about other people's mental states and personality traits. Conversely, how do typical adults form impressions of those with ASD? What type of perceptual information do people rely on to make these judgments? I am also interested in the more general question of what kind of beliefs people in the population hold about ASD, and whether they differ across cultures?

Psychology of driving

I'm particularly interested in how these processes differ between individuals who have learned to drive in environments where driver behaviour, accident and fatality rates dramatically differ: for instance, we have carried out a number of studies comparing drivers from the UK with drivers from Malaysia. I'm also interested in how other individual differences may influence performance within the driving domain, including how having an Autism Spectrum Disorder affects aspects of driving skill.

Danielle Ropar

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Megan Barnard
Assistant Professor

In my role, I lead and demonstrate on workshops, tutorials, and seminars. Additionally, I supervise final year project students and give lectures. Before this, I was a PhD student supervised by Dr Peter Chapman, and I completed this in August 2017. I also have a Masters degree in Brain Imaging with Cognitive Neuroscience, and a BSc in Psychology.

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My research interests are focused within the field of driver behaviour, particularly with respects to emotion. During my PhD, I investigated the effects of both state and trait anxiety on road user behaviour. I did this using a series of behavioural, attentional, physiological, and neurological methods. This information allowed me to provide suggestions within my thesis for relaxation therapies and attentional training for those with high levels of state or trait anxiety respectively. The experiences I have obtained throughout my academic career also mean that I am able to conduct research in both laboratory and simulated environments.
Geoff Underwood
Emeritus Professor

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