Portable touch screen devices in cars may lead to accidents

Portable touch screen-based devices in cars can distract drivers and increase the risk of accidents, according to a study by Australian scientists.

"They've often got really small text or their menu structures are quite complex, so drivers have to spend a lot of time to find a particular item," Kristie Young from the Monash University Accident Research Center of Australia said.

Young, according to ABC report, said, "When drivers' eyes are off the road they miss the visual cues from the road environment to make micro-corrections to their steering to stay on the correct path and also to maintain a safe distance from the lead vehicle."

The finding, published in journal Applied Ergonomics, analysed the impact of using touchscreen devices on driving skills.

"One of the big problems with portable devices being brought into cars is that they are not designed primarily for use by drivers," Young said.

Using computer driving simulations, Young and her team assessed the ability of 37 people to stay in their lane and maintain a safe distance behind another vehicle while searching for songs in a list of tunes on an iPod Touch device.

These devices use scrolling mechanisms and finger flicks to locate songs on a touchscreen.
Without any tactile feedback, drivers need to look at the device to keep track of where they are up to in the task.

"We were interested to see if drivers spent a greater time with their eyes off the road when using these devices compared to the non-touch devices," said Young.

The researchers found that not only did the drivers have their eyes off the road for a significantly higher time, they were also more likely to veer off the centre of their lane, and misjudge the distance to the car in front.

To compensate for the distraction, drivers tended to slow down and take more frequent glances at the device.

But this is not a safe strategy, Young added.

"Even though they may only look at the device for a short period of time they may only glance back at the roadway for a short period of time before looking back at the iPod," she says.
"The amount of information that they can gather from that short glance back to the roadway might not be sufficient.

"The heading and following errors build up and become more increased over time because they aren't making those adjustments that they need to stay on the correct path," Young said.

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