Why car manufacturers shouldn’t rule cognitive science out
Last week, I was listening to the radio (I know, old school, right?) while taking my turn driving the day-camp carpool when I heard a commercial for the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze. I don’t generally tune in when commercials play, but when they started talking about emojis in cars, well it got my attention.
Clearly, with its all-emoji press release, the automobile manufacturer is making a play for the millennial generation. I’m no millennial, but judging by the media’s reaction to the release and ad campaign, Chevrolet’s new Cruze will create buzz.
But, are the new, digital interface and Wi-Fi connection that allow you to access your text messages really safe? Chevrolet claims that this connectivity allows drivers to “stay focused on the road instead of [their] phone[s].” Or, you know, it’ll distract drivers further, bringing things (e.g., text messages) into consideration when they should be focused on road safety.
Source: screen capture from 2016 Chevrolet Cruze ad
Distracted driving isn’t a new thing...
A 1997 study found that driving while talking on cell phones increased the risk of collision by four times. Another study in 2003 found that cell phone usage was linked to “sustained inattentional bias,” proving true the often-touted excuse of “I didn’t see it” that drivers make when they are involved in collisions.
...there are just more distractions
Augmented reality, heads-up displays (called AR-HUD by industry experts), which show drivers everything from possible road hazards to social media updates and other smartphone activity, are safety threats, according to the results of a recent study.
Just because a display keeps drivers heads up doesn’t mean it will necessarily keep their minds focused and their eyes on the road. “The manufacturers of these heads-up displays, none of them have said that any of their conclusions or assertions of safety are supported by any scientific evidence,” Joel Feldman, an attorney and president of End Distracted Driving, told The Washington Post in January.
They’re taking the conclusion that if you’re looking straight ahead, instead of down in your lap, it’s safe, no matter what you’re doing with your mind. The science says that’s not true at all.
With this most recent study from the University of Toronto, science is officially weighing in.
Drivers need to divide their attention to deal with this added visual information," said Ian Spence, a psychology professor from the University of Toronto. "Not only will drivers have to concentrate on what's happening on the road around them as they've always done, they'll also have to attend to whatever warning pops up on the windshield in front of them.
Researchers from the University of Toronto conducted two experiments, each with 55 unique participants with a mean age of approximately 19 years (hello Chevy Cruze…). They found that even the anticipation of digital warnings or alerts on the dash results in a diversion of attention from road conditions, leading to increased response times.
If drivers have to pay attention to many different sources of information (perhaps a conversation with their friends in the backseat, internal dialogue about a college assignment, the speed limit, road, and traffic conditions, as well as incoming text messages), they have to pick and choose where to focus.
Source: Courtesy of Sun Y, Wu S, Spence I (2015) PLoS ONE 10(6): e0130611
It would be necessary to distinguish, for example, between warnings of a collision and a recommendation to make a turn," said Spence. "Otherwise competing warnings may be more dangerous than no warning at all.
Although the Chevrolet Cruze display is on the dash rather than in the window, as in these experiments, one might expect that it could lead to similar levels of distraction—or worse.
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.