If you have a hard time using the infotainment systems in new cars, you’re not the only one. According to a new study from AAA, these systems are distracting for drivers, causing them to take their eyes off the road and hands off the wheel for potentially dangerous amounts of time.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety worked with researchers at the University of Utah to measure the visual and mental demand of completing a task in 30 different 2017 model-year vehicles, as well as how much time it took. Participants were asked to make a call, send a text message, tune the radio, or program the navigation system using voice commands, touchscreens, and other input methods, all while driving.
While previous research has shown that taking your eyes off the road for as little as two seconds doubles the risk of a crash, AAA found that entering a new destination into the navigation system could take drivers more than 40 seconds. At 25 mph, that’s enough time for a driver to travel the length of four football fields, a long distance to be distracted from the road.
“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 David Yang, head of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, in a statement. “When an in-vehicle technology is not properly designed, simple tasks for drivers can become complicated and require more effort from drivers to complete.”
Of the vehicles tested, none put what AAA considers low demand on the driver, while 11 earned a score of “high demand,” and 12 scored “very high.” The test did not include vehicles from all brands.
According to a public opinion survey that AAA conducted, while 70 percent of buyers want the latest technology in their cars, only 24 percent believe it already works perfectly. The researchers also concluded that frustration from trying to use difficult systems leads to even more driver distraction. “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.
For now, AAA believes the best solution is for automakers to lock drivers out of certain especially distracting features while their cars are moving. “By following NHTSA’s voluntary guidelines to lock out certain features that generate high demand while driving, automakers can significantly reduce distraction,” said Jake Nelson, head of AAA’s Traffic Safety Advocacy & Research. “AAA cautions drivers that just because a technology is available while driving does not mean it is safe or easy to use when behind the wheel. Drivers should only use these technologies for legitimate emergencies or urgent, driving related purposes.”