Users often interact with car head unit displays while driving. Typical usability tests are designed assuming that the user is not driving while performing a usability test. Are there any good methods to test UX design/clickable prototype without having the user drive while testing to keep participants safe?

Some thoughts I have is to have prototype working on an ipad located farther from the participants as if it is in the car. Participants could perhaps do simultaneous activities on the computer and perform a task on the ipad at the same time. If I could find a driving simulator that would ideal but would require additional resources. I am looking for some simple ideas that could be done in a regular office setting.

  • Are you designing an actual auto dashboard or an app that a user would use while driving. If the latter, I think you're going to want to deal with more stringent safety standards and testing requirements beyond an ad-hoc simulation.
    – DA01
    Jan 3, 2013 at 16:46
  • Typical usability tests are designed assuming that the user is not driving while performing a usability test. This is simply a wrong assumption. Real people actually drive real cars while clicking ui.
    – c69
    Jan 3, 2013 at 17:20
  • c69, what I meant by "typical" is that designing UX for car display is a pretty new field and it is not as common to run user testing for the car displays as for lets say computer/phone app. At least in my experience interfaces didn't involve cars. I agree that real people drive real cars while clicking :) Jan 3, 2013 at 17:56
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    It's entirely possible that the people who design these interfaces do test them under driving conditions. (Maybe not the early iDrive, but...y'know. Maybe.) There are a bunch of studies done on the cognitive impairment of cell phone use while driving, and these use driving simulators of various kinds. Jan 3, 2013 at 19:33

2 Answers 2


You want a driving simulator that simulates the cognitive, visual, and physical workloads of the primary driving task. A game, unless specifically designed to simulate driving without including other non-driving activities (racing, shooting, collecting point, etc.), will not suffice.

Here are several options.

CARS An open source project requiring a PC, a game steering wheel, a brake-and-gas-pedal gaming device, at least one monitor.

The Lane Change Test The Lane Change Test is a standard surrogate measure of driver distraction. It was designed to evaluate the impact of secondary task performance (i.e., interacting with a head unit) on driving performance.

This paper describes the LCT in a situation similar to the one described in the question.

Also, here are a few resources for in-vehicle UIs.

The Automotive UI conference This year's proceedings includes a paper describing an alternative to the LCT.

Get Home Safe A project for in-vehicle systems.

Sounds like a fun project. Good luck!

  • @AnnaRouben I just ran across this article comparing 3 interaction types on an in-vehicle touchpad. Seems relevant. Jan 6, 2013 at 19:59

As far as a driving simulator, what type of additional resources are you talking about? You can put together a decent simulator using a mid level desktop, usb steering wheel and gas pedal and 42" TV running Need for Speed, or some other game driving game. (Granted, a system like this does not give the user experience of the tactile feel of driving)

What you're really looking for is a user to be distracted, and in the case of a video game, whether it's a driving game or Pacman, the user will be distracted.

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    Need For Speed would not be a very accurate driving simulator of real life driving. Jan 2, 2013 at 20:57
  • It's true. Grand Theft Auto might be a bit more accurate (minus the hookers) :-)
    – Jonathan
    Jan 2, 2013 at 21:00
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    I really don't understand why you've got those downvotes? I suspect they find the DIY simulator to be too corny. The key point is in your last paragraph: Get the user distracted somehow. Let them play a chess game, give them several tasks simultaneously, let water drain into a glass and tell the user to keep an eye on the class so it doesn't overflow etc etc. If eye catching screen elements is the main issue with the test, then just let them have a quick look at product/prototype and see if they can manage to handle the product well enough. Jan 2, 2013 at 21:30
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    I like your pacman suggestion. It requires attention, but offers frequent chances for the user to look away for a moment and rare chances for the user can look away for a long moment. This seems a decent facsimile for driving.
    – Brian
    Jan 2, 2013 at 22:00
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    The hooker part was a joke, the original post wasn't. Jørn is right, my last paragraph was the point I was trying to make. I would want to distract the user from performing a simple task (such as driving or pacman) with having to use the UI. The difference between a tactile UI such as radio push buttons and an iPad screen is unbelievable different, and you can guess which one is more difficult to interact with when you have no feedback that you've done what you wanted.
    – Jonathan
    Jan 2, 2013 at 23:42

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