Date: 22 January 2010
Could satnavs be as dangerous as mobile phones if used while driving? That's the question being posed by researchers from Lancaster University and Royal Holloway, University of London, who are investigating the impact of the now widespread in-car navigation systems.
Although handheld mobile phones are now banned, there is much less interest in the possible effects of being distracted by satnavs.
Now, Dr Pragya Agarwal of Lancaster University, along with psychologists at Royal Holloway, are undertaking a research project to examine the cognitive impact of sat-navs on drivers, with the help of a grant from NESTA.
Dr Agarwal is Reader in Design of Spaces and Places at ImaginationLancaster, part of the Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts.
She said: "There is little research on the impacts of satnavs on spatial attention and memory while undertaking a complex task such as driving. Although sat-nav makers have claimed that such technology aids driving behaviour, we are interested in finding out accurate measurements for how much driving performance and memory of routes worsen while using a sat-nav.
"Can drivers remember the routes they have taken using satnavs? Do they get distracted and stressed? Are they more likely to make errors? Currently, most sat-navs give route information in form of visual displays and audio instructions. We want to also examine whether this is the best - and safest - way to give such information to drivers."
After assessing the types of information drivers receive and the responses they must make while using navigation systems, the team are testing participants with a computer-based task mimicking the demands imposed by the typical in-car navigation system.
Dr Agarwal, who is interested in the wider impact of technology on spatial cognition and behaviour, and design of more 'user-oriented' technology, added that:
"With the increasing reliance on technology for navigation, it is important that such technology is designed so that it supports rather than detracts us from our primary task of driving. We hope that this research will contribute to the development of guidelines for the design of more effective, safe and user-friendly in-car navigation systems."
Associated departments and research centres: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences