Why a heads-up display is a safer alternative to your smartphone behind the wheel?

6 min read
  • To drive safely, you must concentrate on navigation.
  • Your phone isn’t navigation-friendly. It distracts you and takes your eyes off the road.
  • While you can’t but stay connected behind the wheel, with a heads-up display you can do it an a safer way (pics and videos).

Since 2013, we at HUDWAY have been searching for ways to change how drivers use their phones behind the wheel. And here’s what we came to.

What counts as a distraction while driving?

Even when it lasts for seconds.

Like, the kids on the backseat, the coffee you sip, the radio you switch, the speed you check looking down, and the smartphone you’re so used to.

Why even momentary distractions are dangerous?

Even when you’re a pedestrian, distractions reduce your awareness of what’s happening around you.

At 3 mph and having a human weight, you can in most cases avoid negative consequences of distractions. Say, step aside two feet before you bump into another distracted pedestrian.

But operating a vehicle that weights 4,000 pounds on a highway with a posted limit of 70 mph, you have to stay alert and be ready for emergencies.

And your phone is #1 obstacle to that.
And here’s a detailed fact check on this statement (page 100)

Why put so much blame on the smartphone?

Smartphones are designed to give you access to everything you want — and to quickly switch among the activities that pile one atop another.

You can be talking to someone hands-free, scrolling the feed, and replying to messages at the same time.

And when you’re used to do it on the go, you can’t but keep doing it while driving. Especially, when driving is your daily routine.
And your mental focus immediately switches from the driving, which puts you and other drivers in danger.
Curiously, 90% of drivers confirm they understand it’s not safe to use the phone behind the wheel. Yet 35% of these won’t stop doing it.

And here’s what they most frequently use it for.
From McKinsey’s Mobility of the Future Report
Moreover, they often feel “a high degree of pressure” to immediately respond to text messages and emails, be they work-related or personal. And many submit. Wouldn’t you?

How a head-up display can help with this?

While it’s impossible to make drivers not to use the phone behind the wheel, HUDs help reduce the distractions — by offering an opportunity to use the phone without interacting with it.

This way, if the driver can quickly see who’s texting or calling them, without picking up the smartphone, they will stay more focused on driving.

It’s because they will less likely be answering unwanted calls and unimportant messages — and will know if they need to pull over to handle the important ones.

What is most important, this information will appear in their line of sight.

Is it one HUD for all?

Our studies show that drivers prioritize different things: speed, directions, notifications, vehicle data, trip info, etc. And their priorities vary for daily commutes, long drives, daytime/nighttime driving, trips with kids, etc.

That’s why the more customizable the HUD is, the more drivers it will be able to serve. Ideally, the driver shouldn’t need any other devices to stay informed.

For example, in HUDWAY Drive we made the following phone functions available to display:
  • Speed, directions and trip info
  • Who’s calling
  • Message preview from messengers, Apple Mail, and Gmail apps
  • Calendar notifications
  • Music info
HUDWAY Drive interface examples

What if you only use your phone for directions? Is it distracting, too?

Compare the interfaces below.
Waze: very detailed map giving very rich context
Opel HUD: clean, decluttered interface with very basic information
As you see, the interface of the navigation apps is not optimised to be used by the driver. Even the most popular ones, like Google Maps, or Waze display plenty of information, with extra layers and alerts that increase the recognition time.

Another problem is that wherever you place it, either you will be diverting your eyes off the road — or it will be blocking your view.
Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

Are automobile heads-up displays actually safe?

Where human behavior is involved, nothing is clear-cut. And here’s how it applies to HUDs.

The purpose of the heads-up display is to minimise your eyes-off-road time by keeping the important data clustered together in your line of sight. A HUD will only be helpful if this information is basic, and if it can be quickly grasped.

That’s why so much effort is put into designing what’s displayed on a HUD and how it’s arranged (check out an example of how engineers develop and test ergonomic guidelines of HUD interface).
An example of HUDWAY Drive interface, when connected to the OBD-II scanner / left to right: voltage, speed, fuel level
Heads-up displays are not about entertainment. On the contrary, a HUD is made for you to spend as little time referencing it as possible. Which is why the driver should never use it for displaying any content other than the suggested basics.

Only on this condition, a heads-up display will be a really safer alternative to your smartphone

Then why not put a HUD in every car?

A short answer found on Quora
First, the technology behind the factory installed heads-up displays is expensive.

The manufacturer has to modify the windshield, develop a custom system modification for particular cabin model, fit it in the dash, and make sure it will work with the vehicle electronics. And the solution must pass the validation tests. Read more on how a built-in HUD works, and what it takes to implement it.

Second, the pricing for the option at the dealership adds up quite a bit to the vehicle price, and this repels the enthusiasts.
A few examples of built-in HUD pricing
Third, built-in HUDs require expensive maintenance — and you may have to replace the windshield to make it work again. And that’s often the same price as the option itself.

In the end, is HUD worth it?

As a team who spent the last 7 years digging everything related to heads-up displays, we naturally say yes.

But it’s up to you to decide whether it will work for you. The discussions below may help you make up your mind.