As computer-assisted safety features become more and more complex on modern vehicles, is there a point at which drivers are unsafe because of their reliance on new technology? An argument can be made that the more safety features a vehicle possesses, the more likely a driver is to allow themselves to be distracted by a non-driving activity.
Unfortunately, some safety features seem to actively intrude upon the driver’s focus. In particular, the heads-up display or HUD.
An HUD is a projection the car makes into the driver’s field of view. The information can range from the vehicle’s speed to an incoming phone call to a warning about stopped traffic. The data is generally projected on or slightly forward of the windshield so the driver can quickly see the digital information. Unfortunately, drivers need to divide their attention to both assimilate this new information while still operating the vehicle. But can these activities be accomplished together?
A study published by the University of Toronto cautions that no, they cannot.
By using a combination of computer screen tasks such as counting dots and recognizing geometric shapes, the university researchers could measure an individual’s ability to visually multitask similarly-presented information. The results led the team to believe that the ability to focus on a primary task is diminished by the appearance of secondary tasks. The diminishment is proportionate to the number of secondary tasks introduced to the subject. In layman’s terms, the more information that is presented, the harder it is to remain focused.
While it might seem like a strong solution, presenting too much safety information into a driver’s visual field can ultimately be distracting and lead to loss of focus. Distracted drivers can cause serious collisions resulting in catastrophic – or even fatal – injuries.