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Texting-While-Driving Coach Slightly Delays Appalling Crashes

DiscoblogBy Joseph CalamiaAugust 11, 2010 8:37 PM


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If your car could talk, it might tell you to stop texting. At least that's what one research team hopes: after paying young drivers to perform texting-like games while driving a simulator, they found that visual warnings from an in-car "coach" helped keep drivers' eyes on the road. For high-risk drivers, the warning system "more than doubled their time until a virtual crash," a University of Washington press release says. That might not sound entirely reassuring. But the researchers say a similar system installed on a real car might help risky drivers avoid a crash altogether. A team led by Linda Ng Boyle, an industrial and systems engineer at the University of Washington, first had a group of 53 drivers, ages 18 to 21, attempt to drive a simulator while simultaneously playing a matching game. As an incentive to take the game seriously, they paid drivers according to the correct number of matches they made. The riskiest drivers took their eyes off the road for between two and a half to three seconds, compared to moderate and low-risk drivers who would glance off the road for less than two seconds during their longest glances. In later tests the researchers activated the driving coach, which flashed warnings on the matching game's screen. The study noted that the coach decreased the length of high-risk drivers' glances by an average of 0.4 seconds, decreased their longest glances by about one second compared to risky coach-less drivers, and increased high-risk drivers' time to collision by around 8 seconds. In the press release, Ng Boyle says the research shows that driver coaching systems can work for both risky and safer drivers:

"I think that drivers are coachable.... The worst drivers can benefit the most, because we can change their behavior the most dramatically. We can also reinforce the good behavior for safer drivers."

If future driving coaches can talk, we suggest the voice of Knight Rider's KITT or, better yet, Obi-wan. Related content: Discoblog: Texting While Diving? Buoy Allows Text Messages From Submarines Discoblog: Woman Receives First Ever PhD in Texting Discoblog: Watch Those Thumbs Go! Champion Texter Wins $50,000 Discoblog: The New Defense Against Despotism: Text Messaging

Image: Linda Ng Boyle / University of Washington News

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