Driver distraction remains a hot topic when it comes to road safety, and some new research has just been published which sheds some further light on the issue.
New research from The NSW Injury Risk Management Research Centre in Sydney Australia suggests that listening to the radio or your childs DVD player in the backseat is not as distracting as some think. The study looked at the impact of that no audio materials, audio materials from a movie and audio from the radio had on distraction (lateral control, speed control and response to hazards) and interestingly, audio materials of all types were found to have a minimal impact on distraction. The reason put forward for this was that listening while driving is well practiced and does not involve speech production and therefore the research suggests that no regulation is needed, although further real world (rather than simulated) tests are recommended*.
So where does this lead incar safety screen, such as those provided with some satelitte navigation systems? New research assessing the safety impact of invehicle information systems for use in tunnels** actually found that in-vehicle information systems can improve safety, improve driver’s situational awareness and reduce anxiety, but they may also increase mental workload and distraction in some circumstances. Specific study details were as follows;
“Using the displays, drivers improved their speed control but had some difficulty in maintaining lane stability, apparently due to some distraction imposed by the displays. Yet, neither of them increased the mental workload relative to driving without a display. The drivers found the in-vehicle displays useful and responded well to the presented information. The drivers preferred the more informative display to the minimalist display, although it slightly increased distraction from road.”
“In light of the potential benefits of in-vehicle displays, the level of distraction was relatively minor and should not compromise driving safety. Apparently, the highly informative display provided drivers with more information that reduced anxiety and boredom, which are common psychological experiences during tunnel driving. Thus, safety-related information displays can be added to improve safety even when some of their benefits are offset by increased distraction.”
The RAC Foundation believes that technology has a role to play in improving driver safety, but they need to be used with care and common sense. These new pieces of research once again supports the finding that less (in terms of in car stimulatants) is not always more in terms of road safety and it is important that the right balance is struck.
* Hatfield, J. and Chamberlain, T. (2007) The effect of audio materials from a rear-seat audiovisual entertainment system or from radio on simulated driving IN: Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour Volume 11, Issue 1, January 2008, Pages 52-60
** Vashitz et al (2007) In-vehicle information systems to improve traffic safety in road tunnels IN: Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour
Volume 11, Issue 1, January 2008, Pages 61-74