Distracted Driving

Visual and Mental Distractions Behind the Wheel Are Real and Potentially Dangerous

Research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reveals that in-vehicle technology can create dangerous distractions for drivers.

The AAA Foundation’s latest phase of research released in 2017 found that drivers using in-vehicle technologies like voice-based and touch screen features can take their eyes and mental focus off the road and hands off the wheel for potentially dangerous periods of time.


Vehicle’s with infotainment systems rolling off lots today include new capabilities available to the driver that increase visual and mental distractions behind the wheel. Today’s new features make placing a phone call or changing the radio more complicated by requiring drivers to maneuver through complex menu systems using touch screens or voice commands rather than use of simple knobs or buttons. Many of the latest systems also now allow drivers to perform tasks unrelated to driving like surfing the web, checking social media or sending a text message- all things drivers have no business doing behind the wheel.


AAA’s latest research, evaluated the infotainment systems in 30 new 2017 vehicles. Specifically, the study focused on the visual (eyes off road) and cognitive (mental) demand as well as the time it took drivers to complete a task. Study participants were required to use voice commands, touch screens 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. In addition, 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

For a breakdown of the overall vehicle findings, click here.


Visual and mental attention is key to safe driving, yet many technologies can cause drivers to lose sight and focus of the road ahead. Hands-free, voice-command features and other interactive technologies increasingly common in new vehicles, may create visual and mental distractions that unintentionally provide motorists with a false sense of security about their safety behind the wheel. Just because a technology is available in your vehicle, does not mean it is safe to use while driving.


AAA is dedicated to promoting road safety and reducing driver distraction through research, public education and collaboration with automakers and system designers to improve the functionality of new infotainment systems and the demand they place on drivers.


Additional Resources

Read the studies on visual and mental distraction by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety:

Visual and Cognitive Demands of Using In-Vehicle Information Systems (2017)

Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile (2014)

Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile II: Assessing In-Vehicle Voice-Based Interactive Technologies (2015)

Mental Workload of Common Voice-Based Interactions across Six Different Vehicle Systems (2014)

Read AAA’s Factsheets on Visual and Mental Distractions and Summaries of Research to Date on Distracted Driving

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