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Are ′Sat-navs′ a dangerous distraction for drivers?

Posted on 08/01/2010

Researchers are examining the potentially dangerous effects of Sat-navs

With a recent study implicating driver inattention as a factor contributing to 78% of observed vehicle crashes, a team of psychologists at Royal Holloway, University of London and spatial scientists at Lancaster University are examining the potentially dangerous effects of ‘Sat-nav’ in-car navigation systems.

Although there is now legislation aimed at removing some of the likely causes of driver inattention – such as hand-held mobile phones – the effects of other possible distractions have received much less consideration. Dr Polly Dalton, from Royal Holloway, and Dr Pragya Agarwal, of Lancaster University, will be assessing the cognitive impact of ′Sat-nav′ use.

In-car navigation technology has only recently become widespread, and very little research has examined the impacts of such technology on driving.

The researchers have secured funding to run experiments measuring the attentional and memory demands imposed by the task of processing and responding to navigational information. After assessing the types of information drivers receive and the responses they must make while using navigation systems such as ′Sat-navs′, the team will test participants with a computer-based task mimicking the demands imposed by the typical in-car navigation system.

“If we see any worsening of attention or memory performance while people are carrying out the navigation task, this might indicate that the navigation system imposes demands on the participant which could be dangerously distracting”, explains Dr Dalton. “By the end of these experiments, we will be able to provide clear measurements of the ways in which the use of in-car navigation systems might interfere with attention and memory performance.”

Dr Agarwal adds, “With the increasing reliance on technology for navigation, it is important that such technology is designed so that it supports rather than detracts us from our primary task of driving. We hope that this research will contribute to the development of guidelines for the design of more effective, safe and user-friendly in-car navigation systems.”

Dr Dalton is a member of the Attention Lab at Royal Holloway. Visit: http://www.pc.rhul.ac.uk/sites/attentionlab/

For more information about the top-rated Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, please see: http://www.pc.rhul.ac.uk/


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