Finding of the week #65

Play a game and get convinced

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about the dangerous situation of doing a phone-call while driving a car. Many car drivers still believe that a conversation does not result in a strong impact on the own driving performance. A short test described in this article could convince these drivers that even small conversations can have a huge impact on their performance.

Doing other things while driving a car is always risky because it can distract the driver from the situation on the streets. One of the most common distractions is doing a phone-call while driving. During such an additional task, the driver needs to focus on the conversation and on the traffic at the same time. Moreover, the conversation has additional two main tasks: understanding and responding. In this case, the driver is trying to think about the conversation and the own contribution to it while he needs to pay attention to the traffic.

Although a lot of surveys have proven and demonstrated the negative influence of doing a phone-call while driving, a lot of drivers are still using their cell-phones[1]. The risk of doing a phone-call while driving is a bit reduced, if the driver uses a hands free device. Using this technology is in many countries the only legal way to do a phone-call while driving. However, a phone-call in this scenario still needs the attention of the driver to follow the conversation. Unfortunately, many drivers believe that they can handle these two tasks at the same time without reducing their ability to monitor the traffic. Additionally, they might be in the opinion that they are more skilled than the other drivers who have caused an accident due to the use of their cell-phones.

At this point, I like to suggest the gamer’s way to experience the influence of focussing on a different task while driving. The simulation computer game genre also features a lot of car racing simulations. Depending on the accuracy of the simulation, these games can simulate an realistic behavior of a car. If the driver is driving too fast or does not completely focus on the own car, it is very easy to lose control over the own car resulting in a spinning car or even a crash with an obstacle. One of these games is Assetto Corsa[2] (AC), a very realistic car and racing simulation due to an advanced physics engine. Even without doing another task while playing this game, it is really challenging to keep the own car under control. Furthermore, due to the realistic graphics engine and the demanding gameplay, AC creates a very immersive environment. This in return enhances the realistic and authentic feeling of driving a real car on a racetrack.

Such a realistic and immersive car driving simulation is the ideal test-bed for the own capabilities and limits while focussing on the driving task. The players can start driving around an empty racetrack and try to improve their lap times. After a first practice session in order to get used to the game controls and the behavior of the car, they can start testing their very own potential.
The first part of the self-test should be done without any distraction. The players should only focus on their cars and the goal of driving around the racetrack as fast as possible without losing control over the car. After completing several laps on the racetrack, the players can take advantage of the replay feature of AC and analyse their laps and lap times.
The second part of the self-test should begin after a short break to allow the players to regain focus after the demanding first part. During the second part of the test, players should just try to talk about a specific topic while trying to beat the lap times of the previous session. This can be done by explaining a certain fact or talking about an important day of their life. This step can be even combined with a voice recorder to allow a more thorough analysis of the own performance.
After completing the same amount of laps on the racetrack, the players can start to compare their lap times between the two sessions. Additionally, they can listen to their recorded explanations or stories.

After this test, most of the players will probably discover that their lap times were slower compared to the lap times without a distraction. They might even discover, that they did more often a mistake or even lost control over their cars. Additionally, they might discover that due to the demanding gameplay of the racing simulation, their explanations or stories are negatively influenced and not as clear as they would be without driving a virtual car.
Finally, the players then should start to think about two important facts: they were alone on the racetrack and they just needed to talk about a topic without being required to follow a conversation. In contrast to their normal driving environment, they had not to pay attention to the traffic on the streets and unpredictable actions from other car drivers. The players were completely alone on the racetrack and they were not faced with any random situation. On the other hand, they just needed to contribute to a conversation without the requirement of understanding what the dialog partner was talking about.
At this point, the players should recognize that this short test had less variables than a phone-call during a drive on a street with other cars. This particular insight should make the experience of the negatively influenced driving performance due to a simple task much more impressive.

As a conclusion, computer games can help us to test our very own limits and also to put them into perspective. It can be really surprising to discover, that other small tasks have already a huge impact on the own driving performance. Gaming can help us to prevent dangerous situations, because it helps us to recognize our very own limits. Once we have experienced that our performance in playing a game is negatively influenced by doing other tasks at the same time, it becomes even more obvious how dangerous it is to do things like a phone-call while driving in the unpredictable real world.