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Brunel University study warns of potential dangers of current vehicle design

The results are alarming given that poor awareness of what is happening around you whilst driving has been proven to be a bigger contributor to accidents than speeding or driving technique.

“Our research demonstrates the need for car designers to balance technology advances with user-centric design, to ensure drivers have appropriate levels of vehicle feedback and unimpaired situational awareness,“ comments Dr. Guy Walker of the Driving Research Laboratory at the School of Engineering and Design, Brunel University.

“Cars provide timely 'informal chatter' such as engine noise and road noise, which keeps us attentive and informed of our situation on the road. If this feedback is removed through car design innovations, the whole nature of driving could change completely, potentially putting lives at risk.“

Using on-road trials on a fixed 14-mile route, it was found that drivers of modern, highly refined vehicles referred less to the behaviour of their vehicle and how it was responding to the road environment compared to drivers of older cars, which put them in touch with the road. Drivers are proven to be acutely sensitive to auditory and tactile feedback (for example engine noise and steering feel) and, amongst other things, use this feedback to monitor vehicle speed without having to constantly look at the speedometer. The research, therefore, points to a hazardous condition. Drivers are becoming more isolated in their cars from the outside environment, and less aware of what is happening around them as a result.

At the same time, the research demonstrated that drivers of newer car models compensate, in terms of their perception and prediction of events, for the impact of this reduced vehicle feedback. However, as drivers can only concentrate on so many things at once, the limit of this ability to compensate is unknown and presents severe consequences should drivers fail.

“Driving is a complex and dynamic activity. With the advent of new technologies, which remove vehicle feedback and change the driver's role, we need to be careful we don't make drivers the equivalent of passengers in their own cars, who are not necessarily in control, or aware of and anticipating changes on the road environment,“ concluded Dr. Walker.

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