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The Dangerous Truth About Head-Up Displays

Heads-up displays are becoming increasingly common in Illinois vehicles, but they might be adding to driver distraction. These high-tech displays project useful information into the driver’s visual field, arranging it out in front of the vehicle. The displays are transparent so drivers can see through them and may include such things as the driver’s speed, stereo information, data about upcoming turns and objects and more. While automakers have touted this technology as helping to decrease driver distraction by making it unnecessary for drivers to glance down at their instrument controls, a recent study shows that the commingling of attention that is required to use the information on heads-up displays while driving may actually increase the drivers’ reaction times.

How Heads-up Displays Work

Most heads-up displays in motor vehicles use cathode ray tubes to project data onto windshields at a specific point in the driver’s visual field. The data is then projected at a specific distance in front of the car, making more easily accessible to the driver. Newer models are taking advantage of advances in technology and turning to LCD and LED technologies so the images are brighter and easier to see. Automakers have claimed that this technology helps to decrease driver distraction by making it unnecessary for drivers to look down at their control panels while they are driving.

Why Heads-up Displays Might Increase Distraction

It makes sense that heads-up displays should help to decrease driver distraction because they keep drivers’ visual attention focused on the roads. However, a recent study showed that these displays might be distracting to drivers and cause increased reaction times. Researchers at the University of Toronto were interested in seeing how commingling attention affects the attention of drivers. In the past, divided attention tasks have been used, but the researchers wanted to see how the commingling of visual information affected the drivers. They found that the accuracy of the participants in interpreting information over a wide visual field such as a windshield decreased when they were presented with commingled information, indicating that heads-up displays might have the opposite effect on distraction because they are distracting to drivers and may cause accidents.

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