Salt Lake City—New vehicle infotainment systems take drivers’ eyes off the road and hands off the wheel for potentially dangerous periods of time, according to research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

In a new study, AAA found 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.

“Using these technologies while driving can have dangerous consequences, as motorists could miss stop signs, pedestrians and other vehicles for over half a minute while their eyes and attention are off the road and hands off the wheel,” said Michael Blasky, spokesman for AAA Utah.

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. 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.

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.

None of the 30 vehicle infotainment systems produced low demand, while 23 systems generated high or very high levels of demand on drivers.

Overall Demand by Vehicle
 Low   Moderate  High  Very High
 N/A  Chevrolet Equinox  LT  Ford F250 XLT  Hyundai Santa Fe Sport  Lincoln MKC Premiere  Toyota Camry SE  Toyota Corolla SE  Toyota Sienna XLE  Cadillac XT5 Luxury  Chevrolet Traverse LT  Dodge Ram 1500  Ford Fusion Titanium  Hyundai Sonata Base  Infiniti Q50 Premium  Jeep Compass Sport  Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited  Kia Sorento LX  Nissan Maxima SV  Toyota Rav 4 XLE  Audi Q7 QPP  Chrysler 300 C  Dodge Durango GT  Ford Mustang GT  GMC Yukon SLT  Honda Civic Touring  Honda Ridgeline RTL-E  Mazda3 Touring  Nissan Armada SV  Subaru Crosstrek Premium  Tesla Model S  Volvo XC60 T5 Inscription

Programming navigation was the most distracting task, taking an average of 40 seconds for drivers to complete. At 25 mph, a car can travel the length of four football fields during the time it could take a driver to enter a destination in navigation—all while distracted from the task of driving.

“Drivers want technology that is safe and easy to use, but many of the features added to infotainment systems have resulted in overly complex and sometimes frustrating user experiences for drivers, which can increase cognitive demand and the potential for distracted driving,” Blasky said.

Researchers found that 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. 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.

A total of 120 drivers 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. AAA conducts this research to help automakers and system designers improve the functionality of new infotainment systems and their demand on drivers.

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