AAA Study Finds Infotainment Systems Dangerously Distracting
Automobiles are more tech-laden than ever and, according to a recent study, those interactive bells and whistles contribute heavily to distracted driving.
With connected cars ready to shoot off assembly lines and into driveways at an accelerated pace, the danger of someone flicking through their dashboard menus when they should be looking at the road is only going to grow. Many states prohibit phone usage while driving, yet there is no law against setting your radio pre-tunes or customizing your digital dashboard while hurtling down the expressway — not that there necessarily should be.
However, the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety commissioned researchers from the University of Utah to examine the physical and mental demand required to complete various tasks using the infotainment systems in 30 new 2017 vehicles. The conclusion was that the growing cavalcade of buttons, screens, and technology does an incredibly good job at keeping you from minding the road ahead.
The AAA study found that programming a vehicle’s navigation was the most distracting task, taking an average of 40 seconds for drivers to complete effectively. That’s quite a bit of time to attempt multitasking, especially when navigation is just one of many potential distractions in a modern car.
“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.”
While design is an issue, an intelligent person would likely pull over before they began a deep dive into automotive menus and circumvent this entire problem. But we all know those people who still text and drive or endlessly futz with controls, and no amount of shaming will stop them. They’re a liability and the best OEMs can do is attempt to integrate mobile devices into in-car systems and make them as easy to use as possible.
Unfortunately, not all technologies are created equal. Taking 30 vehicles from all walks of life, the AAA study uncovered that none of their infotainment systems were satisfactorily intuitive and faulted 12 with being highly demanding of a person’s attention.
According to the association, the best solution is to prohibit drivers from using in-car technologies while in motion — making exceptions for “legitimate emergencies or urgent, driving related purposes.” It also encourages automakers to follow the NHTSA’s voluntary guideline of locking out certain features that generate high demand while driving.
That would assuredly make things safer, but OEMs are providing vehicles with the technologies they think people want. No company in its right mind would strip a vehicle of features when the rest of the competition isn’t doing the same.
That leaves manufactures with the burden of trying to figure out how to make their systems the more intuitive and less taxing. But that’s not going to be easy in the midst of an industry-wide technological arms race. People buy cars based on features, whether or not they even understand or use them.
A new public opinion survey, also from AAA, acknowledges this truth. Over 70 percent of respondents said they definitely want those new technologies in their vehicle, but only 24 percent felt that the systems already in place worked effectively.
“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.
However, let’s be pragmatic here. Automakers have already come up with solutions that don’t involve holding a small device inches from your face to navigate roadways or make a phone call. At worst, the additional problem associated with vehicles possessing more buttons and menus were created in the wake of resolving another.
Our low-tech solution is to just pull over if you need to do something more involved than changing the radio station. In the meantime, manufactures will get better at making more intuitive infotainment solutions and you can shop around until you find one that is minimally taxing to interact with — or the government can just ban them, if you prefer.
[Images: Audi; Honda]
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