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TOWSON, MD (October 5, 2017) – New vehicle infotainment systems take drivers’ eyes and attention off the road and hands off the wheel for potentially dangerous periods of time, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Drivers using in-vehicle technologies like 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.
Removing eyes from the road for just two seconds doubles the risk for a crash, according to previous research. With one in three U.S. adults using infotainment systems while driving, AAA cautions that using these technologies while behind the wheel can have dangerous consequences.
AAA has conducted this new research to help automakers and system designers improve the functionality of new infotainment systems and the demand they place on 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. “When an in-vehicle technology is not properly designed, simple tasks for drivers can become complicated and require more effort from drivers to complete.”
The AAA Foundation Study On Infotainment Systems
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety commissioned researchers from the University of Utah to examine the visual and cognitive demand, as well as the time it took drivers to complete a task using the infotainment systems in 30 new 2017 vehicles. Study participants were required 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 driving down the road.
Programming navigation was the most distracting task, taking an average of 40 seconds for drivers to complete. When driving at 25 mph, 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. Programming navigation while driving was available in 12 of the 30 vehicle systems tested.
None of the 30 vehicle infotainment systems produced low demand on drivers, while 23 systems generated high or very high levels of demand:
12 systems generated very high demand
11 systems generated high demand
7 systems generated moderate demand
Researchers developed an advanced rating scale to measure the visual and cognitive demands and the time it took to complete a task experienced by drivers using each vehicle’s infotainment system. The scale ranged from low to very high levels of demand. A low level of demand equates to listening to the radio or an audiobook, while very high demand is equivalent to trying to balance a checkbook while driving. AAA believes a safe in-vehicle technology system should not exceed a low level of demand.
“Naturally, drivers want technology that is safe and easy to use; however, many of the features added to infotainment systems today have resulted in overly complex and sometimes frustrating user experiences for drivers,” said Ragina Cooper Averella, Manager of Public and Government Affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Any frustration from trying to use these systems increases mental demand and thus increases the potential for distracted driving.”
AAA has met with interested auto manufacturers and suppliers to discuss the report’s findings. The auto club welcomes the opportunity to meet with other interested parties to discuss the report’s recommendations and ways to reduce driver distraction.
U.S. and Maryland Drivers Weigh-In On The Technology
According to a new nationwide AAA public opinion survey, nearly 70 percent of drivers say that they want the new technology in their vehicle, but only 24 percent feel that the technology already works perfectly.
In a local poll of Maryland drivers, commissioned by AAA Mid-Atlantic, 27 percent were totally satisfied with the performance of their voice command technology in their vehicle, while 34 percent were somewhat satisfied. This compared to 11 percent who were dissatisfied. However, 27 percent of respondents were on the fence – neither satisfied or dissatisfied.
More than half (55 percent) of Maryland drivers surveyed are currently using voice command technology in a vehicle to make a phone call, tune in music, send a text or use a navigation system with or without a touchscreen.
State drivers surveyed said they used the technology primarily to make a phone call (55 percent), followed by operating a navigation system (13 percent) or tune in music (11 percent).
While a majority of Maryland drivers are embracing the technology, 32 percent surveyed stated they do not want voice command technology in their car, regardless if it works reliably or not.
Marylanders would welcome a rating system that would rank the level of distraction this technology creates with 60 percent of respondents saying the ratings would be important in making their next vehicle purchase.
How to Solve the Distraction Problem with Infotainment Systems
Most infotainment systems tested could easily be made safer by simply following clearly stated federal recommendations such as locking out text messaging, social media and programming navigation while the car is in motion, researchers found.
In 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a set of voluntary safety guidelines advising automakers to block access to tasks when vehicles are not parked. AAA says automakers can significantly reduce distraction by incorporating NHTSA’s voluntary guidelines to lock out certain features that generate high demand while driving.
“Some of the latest systems on the market now include functions unrelated to the main task of driving, such as sending text messages, checking social media or surfing the web. These are tasks we have no reason to do while behind the wheel,” continued Averella. “Drivers should avoid the temptation to engage with these technologies, especially for non-driving tasks, and only use them for legitimate emergencies or urgent, driving related purposes. Additionally, 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. Just because a technology is available while driving does not mean it is safe or easy to use when behind the wheel.”
A total of 120 drivers nationwide ages 21-36 participated in the study of 30 new 2017 model-year vehicles. The latest report is the fifth phase of distraction research from AAA’s Center for Driving Safety and Technology. The Center was created in 2013 with the goal of studying the safety implications for how drivers interact with new vehicle technologies when behind the wheel. Visit AAA.com/distraction to learn more.
Public Policy Polling, commissioned by AAA Mid-Atlantic, surveyed 647 Maryland drivers from September 25-27, 2017.
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