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The ‘Saw but Forgot’ error: A role for short-term memory failures in understanding junction crashes?

Robbins, Chloe J.; Allen, Harriet A.; Miller, Karl A.; Chapman, Peter


Chloe J. Robbins

Professor of Lifespan Psychology

Karl A. Miller


Feng Chen


Motorcyclists are involved in an exceptionally high number of crashes for the distance they travel, with one of the most common incidents being where another road user pulls out into the path of an oncoming motorcycle frequently resulting in a fatal collision. These instances have previously been interpreted as failures of visual attention, sometimes termed ‘Look but Fail to See’ (LBFTS) crashes, and interventions have focused on improving drivers’ visual scanning and motorcycles’ visibility. Here we show from a series of three experiments in a high-fidelity driving simulator, that when drivers’ visual attention towards and memory for approaching vehicles is experimentally tested, drivers fail to report approaching motorcycles
on between 13% and 18% of occasions. This happens even when the driver is pulling out into a safety-critical gap in front of the motorcycle, and often happens despite the driver having directly fixated on the oncoming vehicle. These failures in reporting a critical vehicle were not associated with how long the driver looked at the vehicle for, but were associated with drivers’ subsequent visual search and the time that elapsed between fixating on the oncoming vehicle and pulling out of the junction. Here, we raise the possibility that interference in short-term memory might prevent drivers holding important visual information during these complex manoeuvres. This explanation suggests that some junction crashes on real roads that have been attributed to LBFTS errors may have been misclassified and might instead be the result of ‘Saw but Forgot’ (SBF) errors. We provide a framework for understanding the role of short-term memory in such situations, the Perceive Retain Choose (PRC) model, as well as novel predictions and proposals for practical interventions that may prevent this type of crash in the future.


Robbins, C. J., Allen, H. A., Miller, K. A., & Chapman, P. (2019). The ‘Saw but Forgot’ error: A role for short-term memory failures in understanding junction crashes?. PLoS ONE, 14(9), 1-22.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 10, 2019
Online Publication Date Sep 23, 2019
Publication Date Sep 23, 2019
Deposit Date Sep 24, 2019
Publicly Available Date Sep 24, 2019
Journal PLoS ONE
Electronic ISSN 1932-6203
Publisher Public Library of Science
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 14
Issue 9
Article Number e0222905
Pages 1-22
Keywords General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology; General Agricultural and Biological Sciences; General Medicine
Public URL
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