Loudspeakers were placed in a driving simulator
Hi-tech "talking windscreens" used in cars instead of mobile phones could reduce the risk of accidents, researchers claim.
The idea is being promoted by Dr Charles Spence, from the University of Oxford, who carried out research using a state-of-the-art driving simulator.
He found that it was the distraction of a driver's attention - rather than problems with physically handling a phone - that contributes to an increased accident risk.
If visual and audio information comes from the same direction, Dr Spence says, drivers are able to concentrate better.
He says manufacturers should consider developing the idea of "talking windscreens".
It may be possible to develop multisensory warning signals that can more effectively stimulate a driver's senses
Dr Spence, of the Department of Experimental Psychology, said: "These results highlight an important factor limiting a driver's ability to do more than one thing at once.
"However, there are some measures that car designers could introduce to increase safety, such as flat-screen loudspeakers placed by the windscreen in front of the driver.
"Moreover, it may be possible to develop multisensory warning signals that can more effectively stimulate a driver's senses, and so reduce the risk of accidents while driving."
With the help of Dr Liliana Read from the Department of Transport in London, Dr Spence carried out research using an advanced driving simulator at Leeds University.
Participants in their experiments found it easier to divide their attention between eye and ear if the relevant sources of information came from the same direction.
They were asked to perform a listening and speaking task whilst simultaneously driving around suburban and inner city roads.
Two loudspeakers - one placed directly in front of them and one on the side - alternately played words that participants were asked to repeat, a task known as 'shadowing'.
People found it much easier to combine the driving and shadowing tasks if the voice they were listening to came from the loudspeaker placed directly in front of them, rather than from the side.
Recent surveys show drivers are four times more likely to have an accident if they use a mobile phone on the road.