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Technology helping or hindering drivers?

One of the major causes of accidents on the road these days is driver distraction. According to ROSPA (The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents), the hands free solution does ‘not significantly reduce the risks’ since the issue is caused by the driver being distracted and his attention being drawn away from the road. Alarmingly, drivers who use a mobile phone (whether hand-held or hands-free) are four times more likely to crash (

For a long time the military has been aware of the problem, in particular for fighter pilots who are called upon to make complex manoeuvres whilst checking a myriad of dials and displays. The solution was the ‘heads up’ display and increasingly this principle is being found in motor vehicles.

A heads-up display for the car projects information such as directions which appear to be floating on the windscreen in front of the driver. Sitting on the dashboard, the device projects (in colour) data on elements such as navigational direction, current speed etc.

Whilst this might sound like the answer to the problem there is still concern that this new generation of interfaces is simply another way to distract the driver away from looking at the road. Already in-car entertainment systems have become increasingly sophisticated and more prevalent in the ‘cockpit’ area of the car; dashboard displays are now a common feature in cars.

As smartphones and in-car entertainment systems cars become more compelling, new vehicle interfaces could help address driver distraction. However research has shown that even heads-up displays and voice interfaces can be distracting if they’re not carefully designed.

Of particular concern is night driving and the brightness of such displays contrasting so strongly against the darkness outside. Whilst the new heads-up displays at least keep the driver’s eyes pointing in the right direction, the focus still remains on the interface rather than the outside environment.

According to the market research company, IHS it is estimated that this year 348,000 cars in the USA will have heads up displays, an increase from 247,000 in 2013. So far these displays have been relatively simple, with few features and no colour – and more importantly, only available in the more expensive cars. New offerings are more sophisticated and could potentially cause a greater distraction.

In one of the latest devices, data is sent via Bluetooth from a companion smartphone app. A very small projector beams the image onto a small transparent screen which the driver is able to look through to see part of the road.An infrared camera enables the device to recognise gestures such as swiping to accept an incoming call for example whilst other gestures would enable a microphone for calling, tweeting, dictating a text.

Plans are already in place to allow integration between these devices and other third party apps to provide alternative navigation systems and entertainment such as music. Let’s hope video is not on the agenda…

So we really need to weigh up the pros and cons of such technological advancement. Whilst there is the prospect of sophisticated feature-rich driving environments and not illegal fumblings with smartphones, we must still consider that even voice controlled systems have a negative impact on a driver’s ability to focus and concentrate on the road. Is a new way to tweet whilst on the move really going improve the safety on our roads?



David Walker, Technical Project Manager.



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