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Do technological devices assist or distract drivers?

17 September 2015

Story from the RAC Foundation.

We hear much talk of the connected car but what about the connected driver? Increasingly we bring to the wheel a widening range of personal information and communication technology, not just smart phones and tablets, but also devices we can wear such as smart watches and glasses.

In order to find out how such technologies can help rather than hinder drivers, the RAC have previously asked TRL to test the effects of using a handheld mobile phone at the wheel. Now they have carried out a limited trial as to the pros and cons of receiving travel directions through a set of smart glasses as compared with a traditional sat-nav and verbal instructions from a passenger.

The results are contained in the Eyes on the Road Report – which was made possible with joint funding from the FIA - which we hope will be of interest to businesses developing products that might be available to drivers in the future.

More broadly we are concerned that the emphasis should not be on specific products – indeed the smart-glass technology tested by TRL is no longer on the market – but on the framework within which they are developed and used. What this report shows is that:

• there is a body of knowledge about driver distraction that can help inform the design and development of new products;

• there are ways of assessing the distraction risk – TRL has adapted what is known as the ‘Viennese’ approach, described in detail in the report, and;

• it is therefore reasonable to expect the developers of new products to undertake their own assessments and ensure that their designs really are assistive and not distractive.

Of course not every product is designed with motoring specifically in mind, but that does not mean it won’t be utilised in vehicles, something product designers will need to consider in particular for wearable-technology.

In a world offering ever increasing connectivity, vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-roadside, the Foundation will continue to explore what it means to be a ‘connected driver’. What helps drivers focus on the task in hand? What makes those systems work? And what role is there for Government and bodies like Highways England in communicating accurate information? 

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