It sometimes seems puzzling that a driver would run into another vehicle that was clearly visible to the driver. If the driver was paying enough attention to what was going on, the driver would likely avoid the vehicle. However, due to inattentional blindness, some motorists do not see what should be obvious to them.

Inattentional blindness does not mean a driver actually suffers from blindness. It is a psychological concept related to distracted driving. It is the reason many drivers do not notice events on the road that necessitate quick action to avoid an accident.

Explaining inattentional blindness

According to the American Psychological Association, inattentional blindness occurs when a person fixes their attention on something that causes them not to notice something else occurring close by. A person attending a sports game may pay so much attention to the players that other events, like a person wearing an outlandish outfit, may go unnoticed.

The APA explains that various factors can cause inattentional blindness. The item, person or event that goes unseen may not appear conspicuous or meaningful to the viewer. Perhaps most significantly, a scene contains too much stimuli and overloads the cognitive capacity of the viewer to discern everything occurring in the scene.

Dividing driver attention

The Washington Driver Safety Commission explains drivers can experience inattentional blindness when they divide their attention from their driving. While texting, eating, or talking on the phone, even if they manage to keep their eyes on the road, they may miss something that is actually in plain sight. This is why a distracted driver may strike another vehicle or hit a person crossing the road on foot or riding on a bicycle.

The amount of visual stimuli on the road makes it imperative for drivers not to divide their attention. Looking at a cell phone adds another piece of stimulus that dilutes the overall driving picture and increases the odds of not noticing another vehicle or person while driving.