Sat nav systems have already been blamed for giving motorists misleading directions, and now they are being accused of distracting them from the road. This comes as an academic study at Royal Holloway College and Lancaster University has found that sat navs are in danger of providing too much information than drivers can cope with.
Dr Polly Dalton from the Royal Holloway College’s Department of Psychology and Dr Pragya Agarwal from Lancaster University conducted a series of experiments that discovered the impact of this information. The more information their volunteers were given, the faster they drove. They also found that drivers made more steering adjustments at the same time.
Dr Dalton says that people were able to follow one simple instruction without a big impact on their driving. However, as soon as they had to remember the combination of two sequential directions, their driving ability started to be affected. There’s a need to ensure these instructions are as simple as they can be. The information needs to be delivered in as simple and straightforward chucks as possible.
Dr Dalton added that there’s a problem with how much information a brain can keep at one time – particularly when trying to perform another task like driving. The potential danger is that a motorist memorising a big lot of information can be distracted from the road.
Dr Agarwal says the results from their research has implications for how sat navs can be designed so they are more effective and user-friendly in the future. With navigation becoming more reliant on technology, it’s important the technology is designed to support motorists rather than distract them from their primary task.
This isn’t the only study that has raised doubt over how beneficial sat navs are. The devices are one of the best selling consumer electronics but are coming built in to more and more vehicles. One survey found that 19% of drivers admitted to being distracted by their sat nav, which was 2% more than those who get distracted by having a map in their lap.
The TomTom has sold its sat navs to some 60 million drivers around the world, and a spokesman has defended the technology, saying independent tests conducted on their behalf suggest that driving with a dedicated navigation system improves driver focus and concentration. Dutch organisation TNO found that driving with a sat nav had a positive impact on the awareness of a motorist, while it reduced their stress and workload and positively effected their behaviour in general, he added.
AA head Andrew Howard says that people can become flustered – like having their wife beside them telling them they have to fork left and turn sharp right. Drivers are still better off having some directions than trying to find street names on signs that can be a couple of feet from the ground, 20ft up or not there at all. If someone needs a sat nav, they will need an alternative if one isn’t provided to them; and looking for street signs can draw their attention from the road as well, he added.
Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety executive director Robert Gifford said driving is a complex task that requires a motorist’s full attention. If directions from a sat nav become distracting, motorists will have less ability to keep their concentration on what’s going on around them. The vital issue is designing technology that will support drivers rather than confuse them, he added.
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