Distraction in the car

Distraction in the car

How safe is autonomous driving?

Distraction in the car

Humans are only conditionally suitable for the mobility of the future. Because he is bored or too distracted in the car. Already today, the flood of assistants can be more disruptive than helpful.

There is a lot of talk about the future of transport. At trade shows, manufacturers show futuristic studies on autonomous driving. No steering wheel disturbs the visual appearance; instead, smart vehicles are transformed into mobile offices or living rooms with recliners. Driverless cars know their way, they avoid obstacles. But Volkswagen predicts that the car without a human at the wheel will not become a reality until 2080. Only then will the last, the fifth stage of autonomous driving or driving supported by assistance systems be reached.

At present, technological developments are increasingly automating the driving task in order to relieve the burden on the human at the wheel and increase safety. While manual (level 0), assisted (level 1) and semi-automated (level 2) driving still requires the pilot, highly automated driving (level 3) allows the driver to turn his attention to other tasks. However, the driver must always be able to take control of the car, as is the case with fully automated driving (level 4).

Assistance systems can support the driver

That's where the problem lies: "It's difficult to reconcile purely monitoring tasks with our desire for meaningful and active occupation, says Prof. Sebastian Pannasch from the TU Dresden. The traffic psychologist knows: automation solutions always lead to people devoting themselves to other tasks. It is virtually condemned to multitasking. "This results in longer reaction and processing times, which is why the risk of errors increases", says Pannasch. Ten, even 15 seconds can pass before the driver actually intervenes in the traffic situation. In case of doubt it is much too long. But the less often the driver has to intervene, the more likely he is to drift away. It could also be risky for novice drivers who have no routine at all in road traffic.

Also Dr. Gudrun Gericke from the Chair of Industrial and Organizational Psychology at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena is skeptical about autonomous driving: "Assistants give the illusion of safety," she says. She says she knows of cases where professional drivers cut their toenails because they were relying on their driving assistants.

You don't have to wait for Level 5 of autonomous driving to realize that many drivers are already extremely distracted on the road today. From the cell phone to the ear, for example. Even talking on the phone with the hands-free system is distracting. Frequent drivers or frequent phone users often don't want to admit it. Just a quick order, what's the problem?? If you quickly type a destination into the navigation system at the same time, you may overlook a pedestrian crossing the street. "On work-related trips, work stress is closely related to traffic accidents," Gericke knows.

Employers and employees often underestimate these hazards, says Benno Gross of the Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the German Social Accident Insurance (BGV). At the same time, every boss is obliged to carry out a risk assessment in accordance with Section 5 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. He must identify the hazards that arise in connection with the job, adapt work processes to protect employees and include them in the evaluation of the workplace. Whereby it must be clear: The workplace of a sales representative is also behind the wheel of his company car.

That's why Gross recommends training employees on how to use mobile devices in the car. The focus should always be on safe driving while staying in lane. To stand the prescribed speed. Head-up display or lane departure warning system, many information systems can make driving easier. The same applies to a hands-free device, which is permitted in principle. Nevertheless, telephoning in the car poses risks. Anyone who also has to type in complicated addresses or laboriously filter out a phone contact from a long list is highly distracted. "There's a big difference between just reading something and typing commands into a device. Drivers often underestimate this, says Gross. And very few people consistently use the company car's voice control system. Because they don't know how it works. Because they are not used to it. Or because they are uncomfortable talking to a machine. Safety expert Gross also recommends clear work instructions. For example, not talking to customers in moving traffic, but only when the vehicle is stationary.

Distraction in the car

If company software is used on mobile devices, Gross recommends adapting the software. It should only transmit tasks that briefly bind the driver's gaze and do not distract him or her. Voice-controlled applications are preferable to manual operation. Studies show that typing messages, for example, is massively distracting.

With automatic driving according to level 5, of course, these suggestions are old news. But it's a long way to go. At the moment, vehicle developers have to deal with completely different problems that have not been in the focus so far. Keyword nausea. Horst Wieker is Professor of Communication Technology at the Saarland University of Technology. He put quite a few test subjects in a simulator for autonomous driving. Whereupon one third of the test subjects had to stop the test because they became nauseous. One third persevered through the test, but felt bad. Only one in three subjects had no problems sitting backwards in the vehicle while reading or doing other things. "For most participants, the simulated ride was more like a "never-ending roller coaster ride", Wieker reports. This topic is obviously not only on the minds of car manufacturers, but also Uber. The mobility service provider is already working on seats that will help passengers overcome the perception illusion via vibration.

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