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The voice in your car

How many drivers these days have a tattered copy of the local map book in their glove box? Chances are you are one of many motorists in Australia using car navigation systems or satnavs. But do you find your satnav distracting? Do you find you have to stop talking to your passengers so you can follow its instructions?

Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) says distractions from within vehicles account for up to 36% of crashes in Australia:

  • The top two distractions inside the car are your passengers and adjusting the sound system
  • If you use mobiles or set GPS while driving, you increase your chances of a crash
  • You must pull off the road before using your satnav or phone.

UK research found drivers are even emotionally affected by the satnav voice, as well as other sounds in and outside the car.

Change the voice

Many drivers change the voice from male to female or vice versa, or choose the voice of a celebrity. Research found volunteers were more likely to use a satnav voice if it seemed trustworthy, assertive and clear, rather than, as you might expect, annoying or distracting.

One Australian driver we know set the satnav with his own voice and his wife, not realising, immediately changed the voice!

However, giving a car satnav a more personal voice could be counterproductive and create more accidents. A US study found volunteers who felt strong social connection with the virtual voice were more likely to crash. This was especially if the voice matched their own, or the car was seen to be a reflection of their own identity.

One alternative to the traditional voice satnav is so-called “haptic” communication, being developed by GM and others.

Haptic comms

Researchers used smart glasses with a vibration system. It showed the driver which direction to take and when, combined with a visual display. Drivers using the haptic smart glasses prototype were under less pressure to think or to listen. Using the visual display kept their eyes on the road.

These drivers said they preferred the haptic satnav because it didn’t distract them from conversation or audio entertainment.

While satnavs – or their voices – may be somewhat distracting, they are probably better than the old days. Remember when drivers balanced a map book on their knees and kept looking up and down?

Even so, distraction inside the car remains a big problem on our roads today, especially using mobile phones while driving and unrecognised fatigue.

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