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Are in-vehicle technologies improving road safety?

As technology advances, vehicle manufacturers are incorporating more and more gadgets such as cell phones, satellite navigators and in-car video systems into vehicles. But what are the effects of these in-vehicle technologies (IVTs) on road safety? Ten European research partners are trying to determine how safe they really are.

The EU-funded 'Interaction' research project focuses on mature technologies that have already been adopted by European car drivers: cruise control, speed limiters, navigation systems and mobile telephony. Their functioning principles, displays and controls are being investigated in detail, while focus groups help to identify how individuals actually use these tools.

With this information, patterns of use and their effects on drivers’ skills and behaviour can be established, both in normal situations and in emergencies. The researchers are also able to compare various demographic groups, as well as people from different countries. With the information gathered, the project will shed light on how to reduce the risks of misusing IVT systems, discourage unsafe practices and increase the global benefits of IVT on road safety.

One key benefit will be the elaboration of actions to strengthen drivers’ awareness of the use of IVT and its possible consequences. Another will be a set of recommendations for the design of future systems, including instructions on safe use of IVT by European drivers. Product designers and policy-makers can integrate these into their agendas to yield a safer road transport system and improved use of technology in vehicles. Such advances may even inspire other nations to exploit the results as well, positioning the EU as a leader in an important field.