AAA: Infotainment systems for driving still a distraction, study says

Posted at 9:50 AM, Oct 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-05 12:50:51-04

New vehicle infotainment systems offer an array of high-tech features, but motorists should be cautious of using them.

Many of these systems take drivers’ eyes and attention off the road and hands off the wheel for potentially dangerous periods of time, according to a new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

In the study, which evaluated 30 new 2017 vehicles, drivers used voice command, touch screen and other interactive technologies to make a call, send a text message, tune the radio or program navigation, all while driving. The study examined not only visual (eyes-off-road), cognitive (mental) demand, but also accounted for how long it took drivers to complete tasks using vehicle technology.

Researchers developed an advanced rating scale to measure the various demands experienced by drivers using each vehicle’s infotainment system. A low level of demand equates to listening to the radio or an audiobook, while very high demand is equivalent to trying to balance a checkbook while driving. 

Drivers using voice-based and touchscreen technology experienced very high levels of visual and mental demands for more than 40 seconds when completing tasks like programming navigation or sending a text message. Just two seconds of not watching the road doubles the risk for a crash, according to previous research.

None of the 30 vehicle infotainment systems produced low demand and many of them offered features unrelated to the core task of driving. AAA believes a safe in-vehicle technology system should not exceed a low level of demand.

Programming navigation was the most distracting task, taking an average of 40 seconds for drivers to complete. That’s the same amount of time it would take to travel the length of four football fields while driving at 25 mph, which is too much time and too much distance traveled without proper focus on the road.

Researchers found that most infotainment systems tested could easily be made safer by simply following clearly stated federal recommendations such as locking out text messaging, social media and programming navigation while the car is in motion.

With one in three U.S. adults using infotainment systems while driving, AAA cautions drivers that using these technologies while behind the wheel can have dangerous consequences.

AAA conducted this new research to help automakers and system designers improve the functionality of new infotainment systems and their demand on drivers. AAA is providing brief individual reports for all of the vehicles evaluated. Consumers can use the reports to learn more about the system found in their current vehicle and/or to inform their next vehicle purchase.

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