New car cockpit technology could be increasing the potential for error by degrading driving performance

New car cockpit technology means the role of the driver is increasingly similar to that of an aircraft pilot -- and could be increasing the potential for error, according to a Monash University researcher.

Dr Michael Regan, senior research fellow at the Monash University Accident Research Centre, says driving a car is one of the most complex tasks many people will ever perform.

"So any activity that distracts or competes for the driver's attention has the potential to degrade driving performance, and have serious consequences."

Dr Regan believes debate in Australia has focused on hand-held mobile phones at the expense of other significant distractions, including route guidance systems, portable email and internet facilities and entertainment systems.

"So many new technologies entering the car means the role of the driver, like that of a pilot, is becoming more of a systems monitor," he says.

Some Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) issue warnings if the driver exceeds the speed limit on the road network, follow a vehicle too closely, or are about to collide with another vehicle or drive off the road. Other systems alert drivers if they are too drowsy to continue driving, detect alcohol on the breath, and offer vision enhancement through infrared technology.

Route navigation systems that issue turn-by-turn instructions to the driver by voice or visual instructions, as well as portable devices that can advise the nearest restaurant, cinema or hospital are also emerging technologies.

"While these technologies will make it possible to greatly enhance the safety, enjoyment and amenity of driving, the potential benefits might be outweighed by their potential to distract, overload and confuse the driver," Dr Regan says.

"We need to take all aspects of driver distraction -- including outside vehicle distractions such as billboards and signs -- into account and conduct serious and specific research into the issue or it has the potential to escalate into a major road safety problem."


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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