SA Drivers – you can listen but don’t touch and try not to look

29 July 2010

SGIC is urging SA drivers to reposition their portable GPS units and keep their eyes on the road, after running road tests to investigate their impact on driver attention and safety.

The road test revealed that when drivers were challenged to use the portable GPS unit over a 35km route, they glanced at it around 90 times for an average of 1.2 seconds. This means, when travelling at 60 km/h, they were looking away from the road for up to 19 metres at a time – or more than four car lengths*.

The research also suggested that the safest position for a portable GPS unit is the right front lower corner of the windscreen. Of the positions tested, this location created the smallest blind spot for the driver**.

SGIC spokesperson Robert McDonald said the research exposed the true dangers of looking at a GPS continually while driving.

“We want to make drivers aware of the risks of combining another task with driving. In-car distractions like eating, drinking or using a GPS encourage the driver to take their eyes off the road. Losing focus for one second while at the wheel puts you at higher risk of having a collision.

“Drivers should learn to rely on the voice directions rather than looking at the map, it’s too distracting to be repeatedly looking at the screen while staying aware of the road and the other cars around you,” Mr McDonald said.

SGIC research also found the least safe positions for a portable GPS unit is in the centre of the windscreen under the rear-vision mirror or directly in front of the driver, these locations block the field of view, creating large areas invisible for the driver.

“The position of your GPS is critical to being safe on SA roads, we regularly see drivers with a GPS blocking their view and creating an invisible area in front of the vehicle on the road.

“If drivers need to enter a location, look at the map extensively or consider the directions of the GPS, they should pull over and adjust it in a safe place,” Mr McDonald said.

SGIC offers some simple tips to drivers who use a GPS:

  • choose the automatic lighting option – it will select the most suitable setting for the conditions and prevent it being too bright at night;
  • enable a warning if you try to access the screen while driving;
  • ensure it is positioned in your line of sight but not blocking your field of view.

* Six drivers (aged 27 to 59) drove an unfamiliar urban route of 35km on public roads, using the same GPS unit while driving at speeds under the posted speed limit. The drivers faces were filmed with eye movements recorded – a single eye movement is referred to as a ‘glance’.

** Four GPS unit positions were tested. Laser angles were recorded at each corner of the GPS unit to calculate the invisible area the GPS unit projected onto the road in front of the vehicle.