Heads Up Displays may lead to distracted driving.

KIA 2015 K900 Heads Up Display

Heads-Up Displays (HUDs) might be creating more risk of car accidents, according to a new study from the University of Toronto, Colin Jeffrey reports for Gizmag. HUDs, which are also known as Augmented Reality, communicate navigation directions, traffic information, weather and road conditions, and warnings of imminent collisions to the driver via graphics projected on the windshield, as the study says.

Distracted Drivers

All major automakers are developing HUDs, intending them to provide predictions and warnings at the same time as they help to enhance driving safety, the study says. However, the study found that HUDs end up distracting drivers, who are forced to divide their attention between the road, and the HUD, which they have to interpret, Jeffrey writes.

Jeffrey quotes the lead researcher, Department of Psychology Professor Ian Spence:

Drivers need to divide their attention to deal with this added visual information. Not only will drivers have to concentrate on what’s happening on the road around them as they’ve always done, they’ll also have to attend to whatever warning pops up on the windshield in front of them.

Information Overload

The study found that because HUDs present different types of information, some at the same time (such as warnings of immediate danger and mere information prompts), drivers can experience information overload, Jeffrey writes. Such competing warnings could be more dangerous to drivers than no warning at all, Spence said. Because of the demands of HUDs on the driver’s attention, drivers can miss warnings and have slowed reaction time, the study found, as Jeffrey reports. “Furthermore, this rivalry for the driver’s attention is most likely to occur when the driving environment is demanding,” Spence said.

In an unintended result, HUDs can cause drivers to pay less attention to threats on the road itself, because they are paying more attention to the HUD warnings, the study says. However, there is also the opposite problem, the study found: “[B]ecause of the increased level of external threats (and the consequent demands on visual attention), the HUD warnings will be more likely to be missed or misidentified.”

Driving ‘Not a Video Game’

In a comment to the Gizmag article, Hugh Logie writes:

If just using a mobile phone is considered a dangerous distraction, while driving, having all sorts of other stuff flashing in your face while driving is equally so.

And commenter “christopher” writes that driving is not a video game. “Keep an eye out for the ever-present dangers, or stay at home on your computer,” he adds.

The study’s authors — Ian Spence, Quechuan Sun, and Sijing Wu — are all from the Department of Psychology, University of Toronto. To conduct the study, they tested 45 undergraduate student volunteers, 23 male and 22 female undergrads, who participated for course credit. They were told that the three best performers in each of the study’s two experiments would win $50, $30 and $20, respectively, the study says.

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