In-car touchscreens more dangerous than drink or drug driving

The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) have uncovered disturbing evidence regarding drivers who use built-in touchscreen technology.

Published: 1st October 2020

The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) have uncovered disturbing evidence that drivers who use built-in touchscreen technology whilst driving are more distracted than if they were driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or using a handheld phone to call or text.

Carried out on behalf of IAM RoadSmart, the study found that a driver using a touchscreen could take up to 57% longer to react to a change in the road conditions, compared to a driver who was fully focused on the road.

A driver who is not distracted typically reacts in 1 second – the data below shows the increased response times for various distractions or impairments:

 
IAM Roadsmart - Reaction Times 

According to Neale Kinnear, TRL’s head of behavioural science, up to 30% of road accidents are caused by driver distraction. He adds

Taking your eyes of the road for two seconds can double the risk of having a crash, yet a driver can spend up to 20 second looking at a touchscreen to perform a simple task.

There is a direct comparison between the negative effect using of a mobile phone at the wheel and using a touchscreen. The driver is still taking their hands off the steering wheel, not looking at the road and removing focus from conditions around them. As with mobile phones it would be difficult to police, particularly as so many cars already on the road have a touchscreen.

There is an argument that over the last decade car manufacturers have prioritised design over safety; the decluttering of the dashboard to create a minimalist interior is coming at the expense of driver and passenger welfare by moving towards touchscreen technology, even to control basic functions such as climate control. Even the super-safety-conscious Volvo has put a large and distracting touchscreen in their new XC90!

Calls have been made to change to voice-controlled technology, although this would have to recognise normal speech patterns and could yet be some way off.

Up until 2010 road injuries and deaths on the roads had been in a steady decline, thanks to the improved technology used by car manufacturers. Worryingly the numbers have since begun to increase again: in 2010 there were 24,510 people either killed or seriously injured on UK roads. In 2018 this had risen to 25,511.

The Department for Transport is investigating the links between the injury/death rates and “increasing sources of potential distraction” presented by “advances in car infotainment systems and mobile phone technology”. It has been suggested that car manufacturers could install “Big Brother” type surveillance to act as a deterrent to drivers tempted to use their phone or other distractions behind the wheel.

An alternative solution has been suggested that touchscreens should only be functional when the handbrake is on and the car is therefore not in motion.

One thing is for certain – technology has surpassed drink and drug driving as one of the lead causes of distraction and dangerous driving on UK roads. The challenge now is highlighting the dangers to motorists and, in spite of the somewhat irresistible draw of phones and touchscreens, encouraging safer driving habits to save lives.

Published: 1st October 2020
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