Audio prompts lead to safer driving

Can the use of improved satellite navigation devices actually make driving safer?
31 August 2018


Can the use of improved satellite navigation devices actually make driving safer? Fasten your seatbelts, researchers at Anglia Ruskin University have the answer…

Satellite navigation (sat nav) or global positioning software (GPS), is an invaluable tool for anyone lacking some Ordnance Survey savvy but looking at GPS devices whilst driving is a major contributor to car crashes, regardless of the driver’s experience. This is down to the time spent glancing at the GPS screen instead of the road as well as the distraction of visually processing two different images; the road and the screen. The instinctive urge to glance at the GPS screen from time to time whilst driving may be due to an upcoming road complication, such as a confusing layout, intersection or bend. These are currently not described to the driver by the GPS audio. Information about the road layout ahead is currently only provided by visual road signs to prepare the driver for a reaction if action is required.

Researchers from Anglia Ruskin University have found that adding road hazard signs with complementary audio cues can successfully prepare the driver, leading to faster and more accurate responses to the upcoming change ahead. Their novel results could be implemented into existing in-car GPS devices to make our roads safer by reducing GPS related accidents.

“These devices are so ubiquitous”, says Dr Helen Keyes. “More than 75 % of drivers currently use them. We should be looking at how to use them for road safety not just navigational purposes”.

During testing, 32 experienced drivers were exposed to a prompt which was either a) visual, b) audio or c) both visual and audio. This was then followed by an image of a road scene and the participant had to indicate the turning direction of the road using a keyboard.  The time taken for the participant to register their response and the accuracy of their choice was recorded. From these experiments, the team of scientists found that the time taken to respond to the road image and the accuracy of the direction choice were significantly improved by providing both audio and visual warnings because the simultaneous use of multiple senses allows our brain to process information faster. This exciting finding means our response time can be improved with the provision of audio cues about the nature of the road, making them safer.

Of course, there is still a significant amount of work to be done before we will be hearing helpful instruction in our sat navs, for example improving the terminology used to describe the roads. In the study, the phrases “turn left” and “turn right” were used in the audio prompting of the road bending. Interestingly however, the use of either audio cue lead to a decrease in response time, possibly as the common word “turn” was sufficient to induce the beneficial effect.

“We need to continue to carry out lab based research to make tweaks that can shave milliseconds off the response time" added Dr Keyes, "then we need test on tracks to see how it works for real world drivers and eventually test on the roads.”

Maybe one day all you will have to do is listen intently to the chatty sat nav and hopefully it won’t drive you mad!


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