Monday, 5 October 2009

Distracted and inattentive

Last week I attended the First International Conference on Driver Distraction and Inattention, held at Lindholmen Science Park in Gothenburg. The site is next door to Chalmers University, which itself has good links with Volvo research – so it was an excellent choice of venue, and as you can see from the pictures, a very pleasant setting to boot.

The conference itself was top notch too, with some high profile speakers and delegates, and a programme jam-packed with interesting papers for people of our ilk. In fact, there were often too many to choose from, with three parallel sessions meaning I missed a lot of stuff I wanted to see – and the proceedings aren’t going to be out for a few months either. But I’d rather have too much choice than too little – sign of a good conference for me.

We were well represented for the HCDI at Brunel – Stewart Birrell presented a paper on our Foot-LITE project, while I got involved with a symposium on roadside advertising. This is still a very hot topic, and quite timely for me as my paper has just been published in Transportation Research Part F.

The ever-ebullient Peter Hancock gave a philosophical perspective to open the conference, arguing that it is perhaps driving which forms the distraction from life, rather than life being a distraction from driving, and how the different roles we play in life can affect our role as ‘driver’. Coincidentally, these kinds of thoughts are reflected in a recent post by Tom Vanderbilt as well. I like the notion of driving being a distraction from life – it accords with what a lot of people argue about life being too busy and everyone being time-poor these days (which brings us full circle with the ‘need’ for the car to be a mobile office). However, I’m not sure where it gets us in terms of solving the problem – however you view driving, it’s still a safety-critical task, and our job is to make it as safe as possible.

Other interesting themes emerged from the conference; as you might expect a number of papers looked at the effects of in-vehicle technology – both positive and negative – while there was also a reasonable amount of research on older drivers. Perhaps disappointingly, given the great efforts of the organisers to include inattention in the conference title, most of what I saw focused on distraction rather than its cognitive cousin.

Overall they packed an awful lot into two days that it felt like a longer conference (in a good way!) – including a great social dinner at the Universeum science centre, which was duly sold to us as having a traffic safety exhibition … and sharks.

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