distracted driver News & Opinion

AAA Study: Vehicle Infotainment Systems More Distracting Than You Think


AAA just released a study that showed vehicle infotainment systems are more distracting than you think—particularly for older drivers. They teamed up with researchers from the University of Utah and surveyed 128 drivers using six 2018 model-year vehicles. The group was split into ages 21-36 and 55-75. The summary cited four primary areas of testing:

  • Audio Entertainment
  • Calling and Dialing
  • Text Messaging
  • Navigation Entry

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Texting & Driving Are Illegal Here

Where we live, texting while driving is illegal. You’ll get a fine that ranges from $30 to $60 plus moving violations (points) depending upon the circumstances. In some counties, fines rise to $119 to $169 and three points for a violation. That, plus the introduction of mandatory backup cameras, has led most newer vehicles to incorporate some kind of infotainment system.

So that solves the problem—right? Maybe not.

The recent AAA study shows that all of these systems still distract drivers. Some are apparently worse than others, however. The risk is also higher with older adults in that 55-75 range. They seem to have the least amount of experience with technology—so this makes sense. The following footage is absolutely frightening:

Older Drivers Had It the Worst

In the study, drivers had to do certain things using voice commands and by using the system’s touch screens. Observers monitored and recorded them while they drove and made calls, sent texts, operated the radio, and/or used the GPS navigation functions. They tested 2018 vehicles including the Volvo XC9, Audi A6 Premium, Nissan Pathfinder SI, Lincoln Navigator, Mazda CX-5, and Cadillac CT6. Of these, the Nissan and Mazda fared the worst while the Lincoln did the best.

Our conclusion (not official): Older drivers are downright scary when they use technology in the car. We witnessed people literally staring at the screen for many seconds, completely ignoring the road. Others simply got frustrated and spent more time than usual moving their eyes back and forth to the screen. Several times, people nearly ran a stop sign or crossed the center line into oncoming traffic.

Older drivers were:

  • 41% more distracted while using the entertainment systems
  • 27% more distracted while using hands-free calling
  • 22% more distracted while sending a text
  • 27% more distracted while using GPS navigation

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They attributed the problems to overcomplicated interfaces with menus and selections that presented too many choices, options, and difficulties. Seniors represent the fastest-growing demographic in the USA. This problem won’t go away unless it’s addressed by automakers as well as software designers—and taken very seriously.

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Younger Drivers Not Off the Hook

Older drivers may have stolen the show, but younger drivers still showed distracted driving traits. I gave the percentages above, but check out the actual times of distraction cited in each task for younger adults:

  • 18 seconds using the entertainment systems
  • 17.7 seconds using hands-free calling
  • 37.7 seconds while sending a text
  • 31.4 seconds using GPS navigation

Apple Carplay and Android Auto Help…a Little

In a prior study, AAA determined that Apple Carplay and Android Auto systems actually provide less distraction during use than integrated systems. That may explain the rather quick adoption rates we see with newer cars, SUVs, and trucks. Built-in systems like Ford Sync and other similar systems don’t have great user interfaces and cause greater distractions.

AAA Study Vehicle Infotainment Systems More Distracting

AAA is making some recommendations to international automakers:

  • Improve voice-command technology
  • Simplify software menus
  • Remove complex center console controls
  • Position system controls to allow drivers to keep their eyes on the road

Our best guess is that automakers will bail completely on these systems, turning them over entirely to the likes of Apple and Android. And why not? It simplifies their job into one of simply interfacing as opposed to being responsible for designing a system from scratch.

Takeaways

We agree with most of what AAA is saying. Regardless fo your age—avoid distracted driving. Set your GPS ahead of time—before you start your trip. If you can’t do that, then pull over when you do enter the address. Try to keep yourself from messing with the in-car system unless you absolutely have to. Use playlists for music (or the radio) and wait until you can stop the vehicle before selecting something specific. Finally, if you make or receive calls in the car, become familiar with the interface so that you can voice dial and answer calls without having to look a the screen for any length of time.

For more information, check out AAA.com/distraction to learn more.

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David S
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David S

(Stepping up on my soapbox) From my experience as a lifelong automotive technician, people don’t read the owner’s/operator’s manual before hopping in their shiny new car and driving off. The sales person rarely ever goes over the features of a vehicle when the owner may not know how to operate it, I’ve had to set up a system for customers many times where I didn’t get paid for it because it wasn’t a problem when it was the salesperson;s job to do it but didn’t. I know PTR abhors reading owner’s/operator’s manuals, you’ve actually make jokes about it(!), but reading… Read more »

Michael Petrik
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Michael Petrik

Wow your fines are light! In Ontario Canada distracted driving will cost you $1000, and 6 demerit points off your license. It’s still not enough, people are messing with their phones anyway, and swerving all over the road. I travel for work, so I see it everyday. I hope they change it to a system like in Ireland, where it’s equivalent to drunk driving. No license for a year, $5000 fine. Wouldn’t bother me at all, since when I drive I don’t touch my phone, I put it in driving mode to silence any messages, and the only thing running… Read more »