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From Playing games while driving? BrightDriver's challenging proposition (emphasis added):

At first blush, playing games while driving sounds like the kind of thing only the accident-prone would love. But apparently, certain types of games -- like trivia -- can increase a driver's focus, reduce the risk of accidents and even help with navigation...

Albrecht tells Gamasutra. "At first, I was like, 'wow. That's dangerous and slightly crazy.'"

But the idea of solving the problem of boring drives -- which aren't just tedious, but can be dangerous when drivers space out or lose their attention -- through interactive entertainment appealed to Albrecht, especially given a number of studies that've been done by MIT, Duke University and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that show interactive entertainment can improve people's behavior behind the wheel.

However, I can find no concrete examples of such studies on the BrightDriver site. Most of the examples they give are of the form "I was so bored I [did some incredibly unsafe thing like texting or reading a newspaper], but with the game I didn't."

So,

  1. Is there evidence that "certain types of games" actually reduce accidents or improve driving relative to drivers doing only things that are considered nearly universally safe, like listening to a radio or having a casual conversation with passengers? In other words, does the increased risk offset the risks caused by "spacing out"?
  2. If not, is there at least evidence that offering "interactive entertainment" would improve transportation safety by replacing other, less safe, behaviors? In other words, is the increased risk offset by reducing the chance of the average driver taking other risky actions like reading a newspaper?

As acceptable risk in driving can vary greatly between regions, I am most interested in statistics applying to the urban United States.

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"does the increased risk offset the risks caused by "spacing out"" There is likely another factor, and that is that such activity is likely to prevent you from falling asleep. –  Suma Nov 23 '12 at 7:24
    
It's only an anecdotal evidence, but from my personal experience - I am the best driver when I talk to someone or listen to an audiobook, otherwise I can't concentrate on the road for longer periods of times (>few minutes) and space out and get lost in thought. –  Maurycy Zarzycki Jul 3 at 13:29

1 Answer 1

This is a difficult one.

To begin with: there is research showing that interactive media are more likely to improve driving than passive media (which would be you radio listening baseline) - though this only holds for tired drivers on monotonous drives, which does probably not apply to your urban US setting (Takayama, Nass 2008). There are also other studies showing that "concurrent verbal tasks" are better for your driving than nothing, or a "passive task" (1, 2). Again, these studies are for monotonous drives and tired or non-attentive drivers. One more 2008 study looked specifically at trivia-type games (the study proper kicked in after one hour of solo driving) and concluded:

Engaging in cognitive tasks can counteract the effects of underload and increases driving safety as long as they are active. However, additional research is necessary to determine the effects of long term use.

I think we can conclude from this that certain interactive tasks (e.g. games) are better than no secondary engagement or passive engagement (radio, audio books) in certain conditions - in particular, for drivers losing focus. However, there are no known benefits of interactive media versus "having a casual conversation with passengers", or while driving in an urban setting (which is presumably much less monotonous than the study settings).

As concerning your second question - it seems that "less safe behaviour" is also highly situation-dependent. While reading a newspaper is surely not a good idea while driving in NYC, there are studies showing that, if you are drowsy, giving someone a call might be a very sensible thing to do, as the loss of attention from cell phone use seems much less dangerous than the loss of attention from drowsiness.

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