Any activity that places either visual or manual demands on a driver substantially increases the risk of a crash. This includes texting, browsing, dialing a hand-held phone or engaging in conversation either with passengers or on a hands-free device that makes people react badly to hazards.
The growing sales of luxury cars with advanced safety and comfort features have fueled the development of the automotive “gesture-recognition” market, expected to surpass $13 billion worldwide by 2024. Gesture control not only makes using various in-built systems easier, but also reduces the probability of causing a distraction-related collision by minimizing the need to take one’s eyes away from the road. But will gesture control really eliminate the dangers associated with the use of hands-free devices aimed at keeping driver’s eyes on the road?
Consider a vehicle being driven at 40 mph and the driver needs to adjust the volume of the radio, change the channel or look at GPS, that might take the driver’s eyes away for about 1.2 seconds. A car traveling at that speed will cover more than 20 meters in 1.2 seconds, opening opportunities for a mishap just waiting to happen. Now combine this scenario with the multitude of features available in vehicles today such as infotainment systems in addition to the alarming rise in the use of mobile phones while driving.
The idea behind gesture control is that instead of pressing a button, a driver waves his or her hand, points or otherwise gestures. So even with gesture control, the driver is still taking one hand off the wheel. Plus, the driver still has to look at the device to see which option to pick, so the driver’s eyes are still off the road.
Distraction happens in three forms – manual, visual and cognitive. With gesture control, the manual and visual elements are still at play; the crucial cognitive element of distraction does not change the nature of the cognitive distraction at all. It is essential for road safety that drivers think about driving – not about controlling the newest “infotainment systems” that offer seamless connectivity with smartphones and other wireless devices. Most infotainment systems are still operated by buttons and warrant a diversion of the driver’s attention, even if for just a little more than a second.