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Staying connected on the road: A comparison of different types of smart phone use in a driving simulator

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Previous research on smart phone use while driving has primarily focused on phone calls and texting. Drivers are now increasingly using their phone for other activities during driving, in particular social media, which have different cognitive demands. The present study compared the effects of four different smart phone tasks on car-following performance in a driving simulator. Phone tasks were chosen that vary across two factors: interaction medium (text vs image) and task pacing (self-paced vs experimenter-paced) and were as follows: Text messaging with the experimenter (text/other-paced), reading Facebook posts (text/ self-paced), exchanging photos with the experimenter via Snapchat (image, experimenter -paced), and viewing updates on Instagram (image, experimenter -paced). Drivers also performed a driving only baseline. Brake reaction times (BRTs) were significantly greater in the text-based conditions (Mean = 1.16 s) as compared to both the image-based conditions (Mean = 0.92 s) and the baseline (0.88 s). There was no significant difference between BRTs in the image-based and baseline conditions and there was no significant effect of task-pacing. Similar results were obtained for Time Headway variability. These results are consistent with the picture superiority effect found in memory research and suggest that image-based interfaces could provide safer ways to "stay connected" while driving than text-based interfaces.




McNabb, J., & Gray, R. (2016). Staying connected on the road: A comparison of different types of smart phone use in a driving simulator. PLoS ONE, 11(2).

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