AAA: Vehicle infotainment systems increase distractions

Researchers measure visual, cognitive demand


Vehicle infotainment systems are modern conveniences built right into the dashboard. Now, new research conducted by the University of Utah for AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found some of those systems create increased distractions for drivers.

The research found that the systems tested take drivers' eyes and attention off the road for potentially dangerous amounts of time. AAA officials said taking your eyes off the road for two seconds doubles the risk of a crash.

"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," Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, said in a statement. "When in-vehicle technology is not properly designed, simple tasks for drivers can become complicated and require more effort from drivers to complete."

Researchers connected 120 drivers, ages 21-36, with sensors and asked them to complete tasks such as texting, navigating, making a phone call or tuning the radio while driving. The drivers selected used voice commands and touchscreens during the experiment. Researchers then measured visual demand, cognitive demand and how long it took for the drivers to complete a task.

Twelves of the systems tested allow programming navigation while driving. That was found to be the most distracting task, as it took an average of 40 seconds to complete. In that amount of time, driving at 25 miles an hour, a driver should cover the length of four football fields.

Researchers tested 30 newer model vehicles and found 23 of them required high or very high amounts of attention from the driver.

Officials in the auto industry, critical of the study and its methods, responded by saying automakers have worked for years to help drivers focus on the road, and that drivers should avoid using handheld devices and instead use vehicle-integrated systems that are designed to be used in the car and are comparable to tuning the radio or adjusting climate controls.

The project researchers also found that most of the systems tested could be made safer by locking out functions such as texting, social media and programmable navigation while the car is in motion.

Infotainment systems ranked as very high distraction:
  • 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
  • Volvo XC60 T5 Inscription

Systems ranked high distraction:

  • 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
  • Toyota Rav 4 XLE

Systems ranked moderate distraction:

  • Chevrolet Equinox  LT
  • Ford F-250 XLT
  • Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
  • Lincoln MKC Premiere
  • Toyota Camry SE
  • Toyota Corolla SE
  • Toyota Sienna XLE

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