The effect of drivers’ eye contact on pedestrians’ perceived safety

V. Onkhar, P. Bazilinskyy, D. Dodou, J. C.F. de Winter*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
55 Downloads (Pure)


Many fatal accidents that involve pedestrians occur at road crossings, and are attributed to a breakdown of communication between pedestrians and drivers. Thus, it is important to investigate how forms of communication in traffic, such as eye contact, influence crossing decisions. Thus far, there is little information about the effect of drivers’ eye contact on pedestrians’ perceived safety to cross the road. Existing studies treat eye contact as immutable, i.e., it is either present or absent in the whole interaction, an approach that overlooks the effect of the timing of eye contact. We present an online crowdsourced study that addresses this research gap. 1835 participants viewed 13 videos of an approaching car twice, in random order, and held a key whenever they felt safe to cross. The videos differed in terms of whether the car yielded or not, whether the car driver made eye contact or not, and the times when the driver made eye contact. Participants also answered questions about their perceived intuitiveness of the driver's eye contact behavior. The results showed that eye contact made people feel considerably safer to cross compared to no eye contact (an increase in keypress percentage from 31% to 50% was observed). In addition, the initiation and termination of eye contact affected perceived safety to cross more strongly than continuous eye contact and a lack of it, respectively. The car's motion, however, was a more dominant factor. Additionally, the driver's eye contact when the car braked was considered intuitive, and when it drove off, counterintuitive. In summary, this study demonstrates for the first time how drivers’ eye contact affects pedestrians’ perceived safety as a function of time in a dynamic scenario and questions the notion in recent literature that eye contact in road interactions is dispensable. These findings may be of interest in the development of automated vehicles (AVs), where the driver of the AV might not always be paying attention to the environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)194-210
JournalTransportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Crowdsourcing
  • Driver-pedestrian interaction
  • Eye contact
  • Road crossing


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