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Distracted Driving

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

Visual and mental attention is key to safe driving, yet many in-vehicle 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.

Technology and Distraction – What We Know

Research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reveals that vehicle manufacturer’s in-vehicle technology, as well as Apple CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto systems, can create dangerous distractions for drivers while behind the wheel.

Vehicles with infotainment systems rolling off lots today include new capabilities available to the driver that increase visual and mental distractions behind the wheel. New cars also allow for smartphone-based systems, like Apple CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto, to connect to a vehicle. The technology offered by these systems can make placing a phone call or programming audio entertainment 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 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.

Technology and Distraction – AAA’s Latest Research

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s latest research evaluated the infotainment systems in 40 new 2017 and 2018 vehicles. Specifically, the research focused on the visual (eyes-off-road) and cognitive (mental) demand as well as the time it took drivers to complete a task. Participants were required to use voice commands, touch screens and other interactive technologies to make a call, send a text message, program audio entertainment 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 40 vehicle infotainment systems produced low demand, while 29 systems generated high or very high levels of demand on drivers:

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

AAA recommends that industry strive to design in-vehicle technology systems that do not exceed a low level of demand.  For a breakdown of the overall vehicle findings, click here.

In addition, the research found that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto systems are less demanding for drivers than automakers’ (native) in-vehicle systems; though still create potentially unsafe levels of demand. Both CarPlay and Android Auto generated an overall moderate level of demand while the native vehicle systems created very high levels of demand for drivers. When it came to complex tasks like programming navigation or dialing a contact, CarPlay and Android Auto were 24 percent (5 seconds) faster on average than the vehicle’s native system when making a call and 31 percent (15 seconds) faster when programming navigation. Even with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto requiring less overall demand and time to complete a task, drivers still took up to 33 seconds to complete a navigation task compared to 48 seconds for native systems. At 25 MPH, drivers can travel the length of three football fields during this time.