Distracted driving and the role of in-vehicle technology

Distracted driving and the role of in-vehicle technology

Note: This post originally appeared on Drven.co. It has been reposted with permission from the author. Drven is a MaRS client.

We live in a time when there have never been more distractions in our vehicles that can prevent us from focusing on the road and the people and objects around us. Whether you’re changing the radio station, checking your phone, looking at your GPS or peering into your digital dashboard, it only takes a second or two of inattention to cause an accident, or worse.

By now, every driver knows the perils of distracted driving. Distracted driving is actually more dangerous than driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol. According to the Ontario Provincial Police, 78 people died in the province in 2013 from distracted driving incidents, compared to 57 fatalities from impaired driving.

In response to this growing problem, Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation is rolling out “The Making Ontario’s Roads Safer Act”, raising the fine for distracted driving from $280 to $490, plus the victim surcharge, court costs and three demerit points. Many drivers are unaware that, as of today, they can be pulled over and ticketed just for holding a cellphone in their hand, regardless of whether or not they’re using it at the time.

Of course, distracted driving isn’t just a problem in Ontario or Canada, and the US laws reflect that. Forty-six states have banned text messaging for all drivers, and 14 states prohibit using hand-held cell phones altogether while driving. It’s only a matter a time before hand-held cell phone usage is banned universally in the US and Canada.

With this new Ontario law and with increasing awareness of the dangers of using a cell phone in your hand while driving, now would be a good time to invest in a quality dashboard mount for your phone. Even then, care must be taken both on the part of the drivers and the manufacturers of in-dash electronics to ensure that the quantity and length of distractions—or cognitive load—are kept to a minimum.

A 2007 study conducted at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (PDF link) showed that cognitive load—the total amount of mental effort used at a particular moment—can negatively affect driving performance, particularly the ability of drivers to detect safety-critical events. Of course, many factors contribute to distraction by increasing the driver’s cognitive load, including music, grooming, eating, and interacting with passengers. The combination of heightened cognitive load and brief glances away from the road is why we have a distracted driving problem today.

One of the ways to reduce the driver’s cognitive load is by making the in-car visuals legible. You should be able to look at your dashboard or device and read the information you need in the same amount of time it takes you to glance in your rear-view mirror. According to a 2012 study from MIT (PDF link), the choice of typeface and character size will impact its legibility and how long it takes the driver to understand the information. As we all know, an extra second or two not watching the road can make a huge difference.

Every new electronic augmentation in your vehicle brings the possibility of greater distraction and greater risk to you, your passengers, and your surroundings. DRVEN is committed to minimizing that risk while you benefit from the information you receive from a truly connected vehicle.

We understand the importance of providing drivers with useful automotive information in a non-distracting way that reduces cognitive load. Informed by MIT’s Bryan Reimer—a leading expert in cognitive distraction—and his studies on how various in-car tasks measure in “total eyes off road time”, our team is defining what an in-vehicle, non-distractive interaction model look, feels, and sounds like. Our goal is to not just make your driving experience more convenient, but safer as well.

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