High-tech dashboard systems create dangerous distractions for drivers

AAA: Demands on attention are increasing

It takes the average driver about 40 seconds to program a car's built-in navigation system while on the move, a distraction that significantly increases the chances of an accident.

That's one big take-away from a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety that measured the time it takes drivers to use the latest in-dash infotainment systems. Moreover, AAA says, many of the latest systems include functions, such as text messaging and internet searches, that have nothing to do with driving a car.

“Automakers should aim to reduce distractions by designing systems that are no more visually or mentally demanding than listening to the radio or an audiobook," Marshall Doney, AAA’s president and CEO, said. "And drivers should avoid the temptation to engage with these technologies, especially for non-driving tasks.”

Researchers examined the visual and mental demands of vehicle infotainment systems on 120 drivers, ages 21-36, traveling on a residential road with a 25-mph speed limit. Participants used voice commands, touch screen and other interactive technologies to make a call, send a text, tune the radio or program navigation. 

The study measured how long it took drivers to complete a task using the system, and researchers categorized demand as low, moderate, high or very-high. None of the 30 2017 vehicles used in the study had systems that resulted in low demand. Seven generated moderate demand, while 23 were considered high or very-high demand. 

Programming a GPS navigation system caused the most distraction among drivers, taking an average of 40 seconds -- enough time for study participants to travel the length of four football fields, AAA says. Sending a text caused very-high distraction, while tuning the radio or making a phone call was a moderate distraction. 

Previous research has shown that drivers who take their eyes off the road for as little as 2 seconds double their risk of a crash. About 11 percent of all fatal accidents are at least partly caused by distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, leading to almost 4,000 deaths a year.

AAA said it commissioned the research to help automakers make infotainment systems easier for drivers to use safely. While a nationwide public opinion survey by AAA found that about 70 percent of adult drivers say they want the new technology, only 24 percent feel it actually works as advertised. 

“Drivers want technology that is safe and easy to use, but many of the features added to infotainment systems today have resulted in overly complex and sometimes frustrating user experiences for drivers,” Doney said.

The good news is that, according to the study, solutions are not complicated and well within reach. 

Researchers found that most infotainment systems tested could easily be made safer by locking out text messaging, social media and GPS programming while the car is in motion. All of those measures were part of a series of voluntary guidelines released by the NHTSA in 2012.


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