Driver displays, aids and infotainment systems are becoming ever more sophisticated – but can they present a serious safety risk in themselves?
The automotive industry is focusing its technology efforts on developing driver displays and ‘intelligent cockpits’ which will draw together many sources of information and offer almost endless connectivity, all of which the driver can control by voice or by touch. For commercial vehicle drivers a single platform for navigation, communication and in-vehicle information might seem great, but convenience is not the same as safety.
While most professionals accept that using mobile phones while driving – even handsfree – can be a source of driver distraction, the real cause of that distraction is often misunderstood – and that could cause significant problems for commercial vehicle fleet safety.
There are three main forms of driver distraction:
Technology can easily solve the manual distraction issue, with Bluetooth, handsfree, or even voice- recognition smart systems. This is not to say, however, that there are not still a significant number of commercial vehicle drivers who still programme navigation systems by hand, hold mobile phones or even eat and drink at the wheel – all forms of manual distraction.
Visual distraction is harder to solve, but the simple truth is that every moment a driver is not looking at the road is hazardous. Checking mirrors and reversing cameras may be split second, necessary interruptions to his direct vision of the hazards around him. Every extra reason we give the driver to look away from the road is a potential hazard. Intelligent visual displays with multiple readouts are not necessarily a safety improvement.
Finally, there is the most compelling and least understood danger – cognitive distraction.
Cognitive distraction is a huge problem of which studies from all over the world have shown that:
- The brain can only effectively perform one cognitive task at a time when driving. When trying to perform too many tasks at once, the brain juggles the tasks inefficiently, disrupting short term memory and therefore significantly lowering driver performance.
- When we think or remember, our head and our gaze shift slightly away from the road. This 2015 study has proved that steering follows your gaze when looking and thinking whilst driving.
- When we are distracted, we only see what is immediately ahead of us. Our wide-angle or peripheral vision is gone. One study has proved this by showing that drivers doing a mock handsfree call performed significantly fewer visual checks at live delivery sites and road junctions.
- Visual and cognitive distractions while driving both increase the brain’s workload, making the driver less safe and more quickly tired. Task switching (i.e. from watching the road to checking a text message) can kill productivity by up to 80% – one reason perhaps why the most distracted drivers are also those most likely to have a collision.
- Finally, it can take the brain almost 30 seconds to focus back on a task. One study showed it took 27 seconds for the brain to refocus on driving after issuing voice commands.
Given all of this it isn’t surprising that this 2019 study looked in detail at the effects of ‘complex multimodal in-vehicle information systems’ on drivers – and concluded that most were far too distracting to be turned on while driving. And yet, the global automotive infotainment systems market is valued at $13.12 billion in 2015 and is expected to reach $32.26 billion by 2022.
And as this Just-auto.com interview with a vehicle interiors experts says, the future of such systems will be ‘immersive’.
Technology deployed in cars will inevitably be deployed in vans and trucks. Moreover, motorists distracted by such technology will be an unpredictable hazard for fleet drivers.
The only thing we should ask – or demand, is that a driver focuses on their driving. It’s important that as fleet professionals we are also not distracted by the pretty lights and clever systems and stay focused on the most crucial mission – fleet safety.
For more information on improving fleet safety for your truck, van or passenger fleet, click on our Five Great Reasons guides below:
- Posted by Nicola Burgess
- On March 4, 2021