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How in-car GPS audio could make driving safer

Published: 29 August 2018 at 14:24

Driver using an in-car GPS system

Study shows audio description of road ahead improves reaction time of drivers

Research suggests that driving could be made safer if car users are provided with audio information about the road that matches the roadside signs.

The study, carried out by psychologists at Anglia Ruskin University and published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, found that providing a short audio description of the road ahead, for example notifying drivers of a left-hand bend, improves reaction speeds.

The use of in-car GPS satellite navigation systems has grown exponentially in the last decade, with over 75% of owners using their device in audio mode.  The results of this new study, the first to look at combining audio information with visual road signs, suggest that as well as providing route information, GPS systems could play an important safety role.

The research, which involved 32 participants all with a full, clean licence and at least two years’ driving experience in the UK, found that drivers respond most quickly to road scenes when matching visual and audio prompts are presented at the same time.

Even incorrect audio information, for example an instruction to left turn before a right turn, improved people’s reaction times, suggesting that the instruction to “turn” acts as warning, particularly as an estimated third of the population experience mild difficulty when taking directional meaning from the words “left” and “right”. 

Dr Helen Keyes, Principal Lecturer in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, said: 

“We carried out the study because we were interested in harnessing the potential safety cues that in-car GPS devices could provide, especially as these devices are now so commonly used. 

“Our brains process information most rapidly when it is presented in a variety of ways at the same time. For example, we are better at understanding speech when we both see and hear a person talking.  

“We also know that road signs provide a ‘priming function’, preparing drivers for potential hazards ahead, and previous studies have shown that road signs next to bends in the road can reduce crashes at these sites by up to 40%.  Our study is the first to show that audio instructions from GPS systems could provide a similar ‘priming function’. 

“Reaction times improve the most when the audio and visual warnings are presented to the driver at the same time. The audio provides an additional priming cue, helping the driver respond to the road environment quickly and accurately. 

“Although self-driving cars are likely to be future of personal transport, in the meantime we should be looking at using technology that is already easily available, such as GPS systems, to help make our roads as safe as possible.”