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Experts warn of risks in latest vehicle infotainment systems

TRL’s Head of Impairment Research, Dr Paul Jackson, argues that the evidence base regarding distracted driving has failed to keep up with technological developments and is calling for research to assess the distracting effects of the latest versions of in-vehicle infotainment systems, or Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs).

This follows on from the Chief Executive of Highways England recently expressing concerns about the safety of in-car touchscreens and the potential for distracting drivers. This is a concern echoed by many fleet managers, who have seen in-vehicle environments become ever more filled with technology designed to assist (or entertain) drivers. Increasingly, drivers are utilising smart phones to turn any car into an in-vehicle entertainments system placing more distraction at the driver’s fingertips than ever before.

These concerns are borne out in previous studies. For example, according to Horberry et al (2006) using an entertainment system was more distracting than conducting a hands-free mobile phone call, while Lansdowne (2012) found that drivers perceive using unfamiliar car controls and car displays, or add-on media (e.g. music devices) to be more distracting than using a hands-free phone. In the years since these studies were conducted, in-car entertainment systems have become even more complicated, leading to TRL calling for a number of key questions to be answered, including:

  • To what extent are research studies based on mobile phone use relevant to modern HMIs?
  • Is further research required to investigate the effects of interacting with the latest versions of HMI?
  • Should a limit be placed on the features added to HMIs, as was suggested by a panel of experts at a Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Congress in 2016?
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