Microsoft researches mobile phones and safe driving issues

May 11, 2011

Microsoft researches mobile phones and safe driving issuesDepending on what state you live in or drive through, using your mobile phone while driving may be illegal.  Studies have shown that just about any type of cell phone use is distracting.  Still people use their mobile phones while driving to carry on conversations, and text.  Microsoft researchers have found one way of improving safety when driving while talking on a cell phone-an onboard mediation system.

Microsoft research has shown that mediated systems that alert driving cell phone users to upcoming obstacles or heavy traffic significantly improves driver safety. The researchers are presenting a paper on the topic entitled, Hang on a Sec! Effects of Proactive Mediation of Phone Conversations while Driving, at the 2011 ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.  Shamsi Iqbal, an MSR researcher who studies human attention and multitasking, described the impetus for the study.

“If we can’t stop phone conversations during driving, we need to take the behavior into consideration when making design decisions to improve safety,” Iqbal said. “We know about human cognitive abilities and their limitations, so we should leverage that knowledge to develop solutions to make driving safer.”

Studies from the late 1990s and the early 2000s showed that cell phone conversations while driving significantly affected reaction times and increased the number of accidents and deaths.  Recent studies have verified the ongoing danger of cell phone use while driving.  Even with legislation to discourage talking on a mobile phone while driving, people continue to engage in this dangerous behavior.

Using a driving simulator and volunteers, Microsoft tested a mediation system that would interrupt cell phone calls.  Calls were interrupted by “auditory messages” that told the drivers of upcoming road hazards or dangerous conditions.  The volunteer driving the simulator would be given a series of mental questions from the other volunteer on cell phone.  The questions were designed to make the driver solve various problems and recall information.  Not only were calls interrupted by a warning given to both the driver and the caller, but they were also put on temporary hold.

The feedback from the participants was generally positive.  The drivers found the alerts and interruptions to be helpful and the callers found them to be valuable as well.  According to the driving simulators, the mediation system greatly reduced missed turns and virtual accidents.

While the mediation system looks like a promising way to cut down on traffic deaths and accidents, it isn’t slated to be implemented in any upcoming automobiles… yet.  Researchers think that someday systems like those used in the simulator will be in every car.

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