Satnavs accused of distracting drivers

12.00 | 7 June 2012 | | 2 comments

Satellite navigation systems are in danger of providing motorists with more information than they can handle, an academic study has found (Telegraph).

The impact of this ‘information overload’ was discovered in a series of experiments carried out by Polly Dalton, from the department of psychology at Royal Holloway College, London and Pragya Agarwal, of Lancaster University.

The experiments showed that the more information volunteers received the faster they drove. Researchers also found the number of steering adjustments increased at the same time.

Dr Dalton said: “What is interesting is that people were able to follow one simple instruction without any significant impact on their driving. But as soon as they had to remember a compound instruction, consisting of two sequential directions, we began to notice a difference in their driving ability.

“There is a need to make these instructions as simple as possible. You need to deliver the information in as straightforward and simple chunks as possible.

“There is an issue about how much information a brain can retain at one time especially when you are trying to perform another task such as driving.

“The potential danger is that a driver who is memorising a large chunk of information can be distracted from the road ahead.”

The Telegraph highlights another survey, carried out for Privilege, which found that 19% of motorists admitted they had been distracted by their satnav system, 2% more than those whose attention wandered when they had a map on their lap.

Andrew Howard, the AA’s head of road safety, said: “People can get flustered. It’s just like having your wife alongside you telling you to turn sharp right and fork left.

“You are still better off having some instructions rather than trying find street names on signs which can be 20 feet up or a couple of feet from the ground or not there at all.

“We should always remember that if somebody needs satnav, they will need an alternative if it is not provided and looking for street signs can draw your eye on the road ahead.”

Robert Gifford, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, added: “Driving is a complex task that needs our full attention. If instructions from a satnav become a distraction, drivers will have less ability to maintain their concentration on what is happening around them. The crucial issue is to design systems that will support the driver rather than confuse him.”

A spokesperson from satnav supplier, TomTom, said: “Independent tests carried out on behalf of TomTom indicate that driving with a dedicated navigation device improves driver concentration and focus.

“The research carried out by Dutch organisation TNO found that driving with a navigation device had a positive impact on driver awareness, reduced driver stress and workload, and had a positive effect on driver behaviour in general.”

Click here to read the full Telegraph report.


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    As new drivers gather and process more info they go through a stage where their driving mimics their increased thinking and processing, faster. This is overcome with repetitive experience – I would like to see the research data to see if this was also a factor.

    Craig waters , australia
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    It amazes me when specialists talk about what the brain can absorb and when it gets full.

    Perhaps they can assess the brain of a motorcyclist who in every day routine riding has to assimilate loads more information than any car driver, just to keep himself alive.

    And they are obviously not talking about the multifunctioning ability of women… are they?

    bob craven Lancs
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