The Distractions of Infotainment Systems in Vehicles

With distracted driving as one of the leaders in crash causes, AAA warns that in-vehicle technologies designed to curb the phenomenon may not be working as planned. 


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 experienced very high levels of visual and mental demand 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 nearly 40 percent of U.S. drivers using infotainment systems while driving, AAA cautions that using these technologies while behind the wheel can have dangerous consequences.


In North Carolina, there were 119 fatal crashes resulting from distracted driving in 2016. To date, there have been 93 so far in 2017. In South Carolina, there have been 13,872 collisions as a result of distracted driving in 2017 resulting in 38 fatalities.


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.


The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety commissioned researchers from the University of Utah to examine the visual (eyes off road) and cognitive (mental) 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.


The next most difficult task was the text messaging feature – as it required a statistically significantly higher level of demand than the audio entertainment and calling/dialing tasks.


Using the auditory focal interactions did lower the visual demand of the driver, however the interaction times became longer and thus took the driver’s attention away for longer than before.


Overall, none of the 30 vehicle infotainment systems produced low demand, while 23 systems generated high or very high levels of demand on drivers:

  • 12 systems generated very high demand
  • 11 systems generated high demand
  • 7 systems generated moderate demand

Below is a chart of the level of demand each new vehicle’s infotainment system required.


With this information, AAA Carolinas urges motorists to remain vigilant while driving. Though there are new technologies in place designed to assist us, they can just as easily prove to be an even greater distraction than before. 


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