Popularized in science fiction and futuristic action films, a head-up display (HUD) projects information directly into an individual’s field of vision eliminating the need for him or her to look away from the action and down to the vehicle’s control panels. No longer the thing if imagination, HUDs are steadily making their way into consumer vehicles. Is this attempt to reduce distractions, however, having the opposite effect?
Many vehicles now boast advanced HUD technology as an enhancement to the driver’s experience. Information is projected against the windshield often designed to hover like a hologram, so the driver does not have to look away from the road and down to the dashboard – literally keeping their “head up.” While the earliest examples of production vehicle HUDs often simply displayed the speedometer and tachometer, the information has now become more densely packed. For example, the vehicle HUD might now display information such as:
- Speed limit
- Temperature, both environmental and in-cabin
- Turn signal engagement
- GPS navigation directions
- Blind spot monitoring
- Audio system displays including song name and volume
- Battery charge
- Tire inflation
- Vehicle system alerts
Unfortunately, in the rush to prevent driving distractions vehicle manufacturers are unintentionally creating more distractions. They’ve missed one crucial element – drivers still must read the information presented to them. Even if they are not looking down to a navigation system, they are still reading the information on the windshield rather than watching the road. This represents both a visual and a cognitive distraction.
Any action that pulls a driver’s focus and attention from the road is a distraction. Simply moving the distraction to a different location in the vehicle does not prevent it from being a distraction. Worse, drivers can become enamored with the new technology and pay even more attention to the information than they would have had it simply remained embedded in the dashboard.
No matter the type of graphical enhancement, safety experts still encourage drivers to stay focused on the road, safety signals and traffic patterns around them. Distracted drivers can cause devastating collisions resulting in catastrophic injuries. Vehicle occupants can suffer broken bones, head trauma or paralysis depending on numerous factors.