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AAA says drivers are still distracted by infotainment systems

Even touch screen and voice controls aren't helping that much

Photo (c) Geber86 - Getty Images
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has presented new research that shows new infotainment systems found in late model cars and trucks, even those with voice controls, continue to pose dangerous distractions for drivers.

These infotainment systems, which play music from multiple sources and display maps outlining routes, often come with higher levels of sophistication and more features. According to AAA, that's not a good thing.

The researchers say they found drivers who used in-vehicle technologies like voice-based and touch screen features could be both visually and mentally distracted for more than 40 seconds when programming a navigation or sending a text message.

The auto club cites previous research that found taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles the risk of a crash.

Unsafe situations for drivers

"Some in-vehicle technology can create unsafe situations for drivers on the road by increasing the time they spend with their eyes and attention off the road and hands off the wheel," said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Yang doesn't rule out the possibility that in-vehicle technology could be made less distracting. In fact, he says some systems, while far from perfect, are not as bad as others.

"When an in-vehicle technology is not properly designed, simple tasks for drivers can become complicated and require more effort from drivers to complete," Yang said

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Utah, who examined both the visual and mental demands of infortainment systems. They also measured the time it took to complete a task using the systems installed in 30 vehicles from the 2017 model year.

Participants in the study were instructed to use voice command, touch screen, and other interactive technologies to make a call, send a text message, tune the radio, or program navigation -- all while keeping the vehicle on the road.

Navigation most distracting

The study found that programming a navigation system was the most distracting task for a driver, taking an average of 40 seconds to complete.

Remarkably, the study found none of the 30 infotainment system generated low demand on drivers. Seven were found to generate moderate demands on a driver's attention, while 11 generated high demand and 12 were "very high" in their demands.

Among the most demanding were the infotainment systems found in the Honda Civic Touring, Ford Mustang GT, and Tesla Model S.

The least distracting infotainment systems – those imposing a “moderate” demand on the driver – were found in the Chevy Equinox LT, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Toyota Camry SE, and Lincoln MKC Premier.

"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," said Marshall Doney, AAA's CEO.

Doney says drivers are more distracted when they encounter problems using the audio or navigation systems in their cars. However, since research shows consumers like these sophisticated systems, Doney says AAA is meeting with auto manufacturers and suppliers to find ways to make them easier to use.

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