Impact of Temporary Browsing Restrictions on Drivers' Situation Awareness When Interacting with In-Vehicle Infotainment Systems
Looking away from the road during a task degrades situation awareness of potential hazards. Long glances back to the road rebuild this awareness and are thought to be critical for maintaining good vehicle control and recognizing conflicts. To further investigate the importance of rebuilding situation awareness, a controlled test-track study was performed that evaluated drivers’ hazard awareness and response performance to a surprise event after completing a task that involved pausing partway through it to look back at the road. Thirty-two drivers completed a visual-manual infotainment system secondary task. Half of the drivers were instructed to pause their browsing mid-task, while the others were not. While the task was being performed, a lead vehicle activated its hazard lights. It then unexpectedly dropped a fake muffler once drivers completed the task. Drivers’ visual attention to the road and their ability to respond to the muffler were measured. The drivers that paused their browsing were more aware of the lead vehicle’s hazard lights, showed less surprise to the dropped muffler, and executed more measured avoidance maneuvers compared to the drivers that did not pause their browsing. These findings suggest that drivers’ situation awareness can be better maintained when task interactions are paced, allowing for longer monitoring of the environment. Mechanisms that encourage drivers to take restorative on-road glances during extended browsing may be a key aspect of an overall approach to mitigating driver distraction.