Investigating the influence of working memory capacity when driving behavior is combined with cognitive load: An LCT study of young novice drivers

V. Ross*, E.M.M. Jongen, W. Wang, T. Brijs, K. Brijs, R.A.C. Ruiter, G. Wets

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Distracted driving has received increasing attention in the literature due to potential adverse safety outcomes. An often posed solution to alleviate distraction while driving is hands-free technology. Interference by distraction can occur however at the sensory input (e.g., visual) level, but also at the cognitive level where hands-free technology induces working memory (WM) load. Active maintenance of goal-directed behavior in the presence of distraction depends on WM capacity (i.e., Lavie's Load theory) which implies that people with higher WM capacity are less susceptible to distractor interference. This study investigated the interaction between verbal WM load and WM capacity on driving performance to determine whether individuals with higher WM capacity were less affected by verbal WM load, leading to a smaller deterioration of driving performance. Driving performance of 46 young novice drivers (17-25 years-old) was measured with the lane change task (LCT). Participants drove without and with verbal WM load of increasing complexity (auditory-verbal response N-back task). Both visuospatial and verbal WM capacity were investigated. Dependent measures were mean deviation in the lane change path (MDEV), lane change initiation (LCI) and percentage of correct lane changes (PCL). Driving experience was included as a covariate. Performance on each dependent measure deteriorated with increasing verbal WM load. Meanwhile, higher WM capacity related to better LCT performance. Finally, for LCI and PCL, participants with higher verbal WM capacity were influenced less by verbal WM load. These findings entail that completely eliminating distraction is necessary to minimize crash risks among young novice drivers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-387
Number of pages11
JournalAccident Analysis and Prevention
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Lane change task
  • TASK
  • Verbal working memory capacity
  • Verbal working memory load
  • Visuospatial working memory capacity
  • Young novice drivers


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