Driver Performance with In-Vehicle Information Systems

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McFarlane D. C. (1997) Interruption of People in Human-Computer Interaction: A General Unifying Definition of Human Interruption and Taxonomy (NRL Formal Report NRL/FR/5510-97-9870). Washington: US Naval Research Laboratory. [PDF 741KB]


This long paper enumerates many different views of the concept of interruption held by members of different research fields. Interruption has many different definitions within HCI, linguistics, sociology, and social psychology. The taxonomy attempts to clarify the meaning of the term in a given situation by explicitly identifying the various interpretations it might have.

A general definition is attempted, which joins the key concepts from all domains:

Human interruption is the process of coordinating abrupt change in people's activities.


The taxonomy illustrates the immense space of possible interruptions in a driving context and reveals a need to precisely specify the boundaries of our effort. However, it is too general and open-ended to definitively characterize the interruptions important to our investigation. I attempted to narrow the scope of possible scenarios relevant to driving using this taxonomy. This resulted in the five types of task switching behaviors mentioned in the report introduction. McFarlane and Latorella (2002) present a summary of this framework in a concise form. I believe that the abbreviated form is sufficient for the purposes of this project. McFarlane's dissertation (1998) presents another version, along with material published in other articles.

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