Heads up for HUD



The automotive heads-up display (HUD) is either a lifesaver or yet another high-tech deathtrap. There’s little middle ground when we muck with a two-ton instrument of destruction.

And muck we have – as of 2019, the automotive HUD market is worth $560 million, and it should reach $1 billion by 2024. Thus, we’ve reached the singular force on Earth that compels innovation – a huge financial stake.

The automotive HUD is fast becoming a standard feature, like auto brakes and backup cameras, but HUD is far less of a slam dunk boon for safety. In theory, it sounds great – important info is displayed on the windshield (or several feet in front of it), keeping your eyes on the road and heads up instead of down. Some call this the “Eyes-on-the-Road-Benefit” (ERB).

And HUD definitely has its proponents – the Senior Consumer Advice editor at Edmunds.com, Ron Montoya, noted that “When you look at your speed gauges or your navigation screen you are taking your eyes off the road even if it's only for a brief moment.”

I remember the pre-GPS days, when “navigation” meant looking down at a map or printed directions. So even now, in HUD’s adolescence, we take great pains to keep the driver focused on the road (or as close to it as possible).

But maybe, just maybe, we’re trying to fix a problem that we created with our mile-a-minute digital culture.

Today’s driver has a far more taxing automotive “work load” than his 20th century cousin. Obviously, the smart phone is a modern invention, but there’s evidence to suggest that any automotive multitasking – like talking on the phone, handsfree or no -- lowers reaction times. Even if a HUD ensures you won’t have to look (slightly) down at the speedometer, the information’s HUD placement competes with the road for your attention. Because it’s right in front of you, it compels you to keep looking (like we habitually check our e-mail, but HUD makes it even easier to stay in the loop).

"The color of the font, the size of the font, and the way in which it's projected into the forward driving environment are all factors that can impact what the workload is that a driver might experience," said Jacob Nelson, the Director of Traffic Safety Advocacy for AAA. "We have to be careful about the safety consequences of introducing new technologies into the driving experience."

HUD’s coming whether we like it or not – there’s too much money invested to stop now – so it’s up to us to leverage the safety potential with all the risks. We have to leverage safety with, well, safety.