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Feedback and hazard perception

August 24, 2005 ・ Blog

I did (and passed!) my driving theory test last weekend. When I did it the first time round a few years ago (just after the theory test became mandatory) it was on paper, but now it’s all by computer, mouse and touchscreen.

It also now includes a second part, the hazard awareness test. It consists of 14 non-interactive films taken from the perspective of a driver in various locations and conditions. It might sound simple - the aim is to identify potential hazards by clicking the mouse - but it’s actually rather confusing. When are you meant to click the mouse? When you see a clue to a hazard (which is how the imprecise tutorial explains it)? When the situation develops and a true danger occurs? Both times?

The central problem is that you get no feedback over whether you’re doing the right thing - even in your results you’re not told which ones you did well on and which badly. I can see why they didn’t want examinees to see instantly whether they were right: the test is more about testing what has been learned so far about road hazards than about teaching by example during the test. But it’s hard to know whether you’re doing the test right, regardless of your ability. And with a £25 fee and two months on the waiting list on the line, that’s annoying.

Perhaps part of the problem lies with me, though. I’m used to instant feedback telling me whether I’ve done the wrong or right thing through videogames. In their cosy worlds if I do the wrong thing I lose a life, and if I do the right thing I win a prize. It’s simple and unambiguous. And the way the hazard test is run through an interface that closely resembles a videogame without being one is innately confusing to me.

But that shouldn’t be an issue. I think the central problem lies with how complex a task it is to gauge people’s perception of various situations. The hazard perception test is a worthy idea, but that complexity is a little much for it in its current guise.