By CreekVibes Analytical team
From parking sensors to hands-free phone systems, there are plenty of gadgets to toil with while driving. Drivers can now ask Alexa or Google Assistant a question, listen to text messages read aloud by the vehicle and use voice com-mands to initiate phone calls. All of this technologies also works on the as-sumption that if it’s only your voice you are using, there are no safety implica-tions.
This is problematic as a wealth of research demonstrates that this kind of “in-fotainment” technology actually causes distraction
The retired football star David Beckham recently received a six-month driving ban after being photographed using his hand-held phone while driving.
Interestingly, most drivers seem to support the view that hand-held phone use is risky, as it involves the driver potentially taking their hands off the wheel. They also know it is illegal. The problem is that many drivers still continue to use their phones “hands-free” behind the wheel, because the law allows them to do so providing their hands are on the wheel. This implies it is a safe alternative.
But research clearly shows that the driving behaviour and crash risk of a phone-using driver (whether that is hand-held or hands-free) is similar to, and sometimes worse than, that of a drunk driver. Research has shown that phone use carries a significant cost to a driver’s attention, making them far more prone to errors, including failures in visual perception and inability to detect and react to hazards.
The real problem with phone use is the cognitive demands it places on a driver. If we try to allocate attention to another engaging task at the same time as driving, our performance in both tasks suffers.
As failure at the wheel can have devastating consequences, it is unsurprising that the idea of technological solutions to mitigate driver error are also becoming more common.
The European parliament recently announced that, from 2022, all new cars should be fitted with intelligent speed assistance, along with other safety features designed to alert drivers if they are distracted or feel drowsy.
Technology needs to be told which behaviour triggers which response in sim-ple, binary terms as it cannot (yet) handle it, but the risk is that this may en-courage us to believe that 30mph, for example, is inherently safe, even when 20mph, or even less, might have been the safer choice.
Likewise, tech that warns a driver if they are showing signs of drowsiness or intoxication, and parks their car for them if they don’t respond correctly, could actually encourage drivers to think that they can drive when unfit because the car will step in and save them. Technology can be marketed as improving safe-ty, but safety requires understanding not dichotomies.
At a time when we are no longer seeing year-on-year reductions in the number of people being killed or seriously injured on our roads, it seems clear that something radical needs to be done to get drivers’ focus back on to the driving task itself.