The impact of interface modality on police officers’ visual behaviour when using an in-vehicle system

BACKGROUND. Standard operating procedures state that police officers should not drive while interacting with their mobile data terminal (MDT) which provides in-vehicle information essential to police work. Such interactions do however occur in practice and represent a potential source of driver distraction. The MDT comprises visual output with manual input via touch screen and keyboard. This study investigated the potential for alternative input and output methods to mitigate driver distraction with specific focus on eye movements. METHOD. Nineteen experienced drivers of police vehicles (one female) from the NSW Police Force completed four simulated urban drives. Three drives included a concurrent secondary task: imitation licence plate search using an emulated MDT. Three different interface methods were examined: Visual-Manual, Visual-Voice, and Audio-Voice (“Visual” and “Audio” = output modality; “Manual” and “Voice” = input modality). During each drive, eye movements were recorded using FaceLAB™ (Seeing Machines Ltd, Canberra, ACT). Gaze direction and glances on the MDT were assessed. RESULTS. The Visual-Voice and Visual-Manual interfaces resulted in a significantly greater number of glances towards the MDT than Audio-Voice or Baseline. The Visual-Manual and Visual-Voice interfaces resulted in significantly more glances to the display than Audio-Voice or Baseline. For longer duration glances (>2s and 1-2s) the Visual-Manual interface resulted in significantly more fixations than Baseline or Audio-Voice. The short duration glances (<1s) were significantly greater for both Visual-Voice and Visual-Manual compared with Baseline and Audio-Voice. There were no significant differences between Baseline and Audio-Voice. CONCLUSION. An Audio-Voice interface has the greatest potential to decrease visual distraction to police drivers. However, it is acknowledged that an audio output may have limitations for information presentation compared with visual output. The Visual-Voice interface offers an environment where the capacity to present information is sustained, whilst distraction to the driver is reduced (compared to Visual-Manual) by enabling adaptation of fixation behaviour.