Auto infotainment distractions examined

NEW VEHICLE infotainment systems take drivers’ eyes and attention off the road and hands off the wheel for potentially dangerous periods of time, new research from the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety suggests.

It found drivers using in-vehicle technologies such as voice-based and touch screen features were visually and mentally distracted for more than 40 seconds when completing tasks like programming navigation or sending a text message. Previous research suggests removing eyes from the road for just two seconds doubles the risk for a crash.

“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 president and CEO.

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

“When an in-vehicle technology is not properly designed, simple tasks for drivers can become complicated and require more effort from drivers to complete,” said David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The foundation commissioned researchers from the University of Utah to examine the visual and cognitive demand and the time it took drivers to complete a task using the infotainment systems in 30 new U.S. 2017-model year vehicles. Study participants were asked to — while driving — use voice command, touch screen and other interactive technologies to make a call, send a text message, tune the radio or program navigation.

Programming navigation was the most distracting task, taking an average of 40 seconds for drivers to complete.

“When driving at 25 miles per hour, a driver can travel the length of four football fields during the time it could take to enter a destination in navigation — all while distracted from the important task of driving,” the researchers said. Programming navigation while driving was available in 12 of the 30 vehicle systems tested.

The AAA said frustration resulting from unsatisfactory use of these systems increases cognitive demand and increases the potential for distracted driving.

Mr. Doney said the association has met with interested auto manufacturers and suppliers to discuss its findings.

“We welcome the opportunity to meet with other interested parties to discuss the report’s recommendations and ways to mitigate driver distraction,” he said.

None of the 30 vehicle infotainment systems produced low demand on drivers, while 23 generated high or very high levels.

Those included in the study with very high demand levels included: Audi Q7 QPP, Chrysler 300 C, Dodge Durango GT, Ford Mustang GT, GMC Yukon SLT, Honda Civic Touring, Honda Ridgeline RTL-E, Mazda3 Touring, Nissan Armada SV, Subaru Crosstrek Premium, Tesla Model S and Volvo XC60 T5 Inscription.

Those with high demand levels included: Cadillac XT5 Luxury, Chevrolet Traverse LT, Dodge Ram 1500, Ford Fusion Titanium, Hyundai Sonata Base, Infiniti Q50 Premium, Jeep Compass Sport, Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, Kia Sorento LX, Nissan Maxima SV and Toyota Rav 4 XLE.

Vehicles with infotainment systems requiring moderate demand from drivers included: Chevrolet Equinox LT, Ford F250 XLT, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Lincoln MKC Premiere, Toyota Camry SE, Toyota Corolla SE and Toyota Sienna XLE. According to a new AAA public opinion survey, nearly 70% of U.S. adults said they want the new technology in their vehicle, but only 24% felt that the technology works perfectly.

“Some of the latest systems on the market now include functions unrelated to the core task of driving like sending text messages, checking social media or surfing the web — tasks we have no business doing behind the wheel,” Mr. Doney said.

“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.

“And drivers should avoid the temptation to engage with these technologies, especially for non-driving tasks.”

(More coverage of the report is presented in our Oct. 16th weekly edition. To subscribe, please choose the ‘Subscribe’ tab on our main page or email