AAA: car infotainment systems are causing distracted driving

Published: October 5, 2017

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Luke Jones

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Over the last decade, automakers have crammed more technology into their infotainment system, making the car an entertainment hub. However, a new study by the AAA suggests these advanced dashboard systems are making drivers distracted, prompting them to avert their gaze from the road or remove hands from the wheel.

Released Thursday, the study was conducted by University of Utah professor David Strayer, who has been collaborating with the AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety to examine the level of distraction provided by infotainment systems. The partnership has been working since 2013 and has previously identified issues with the systems.

However, Strayer says technologies rapid expansion is making the situation more dangerous. In recent years, carmakers have added infotainment abilities like social media, email, texting. Some systems are as advanced as a tablet PC, with 50 buttons, numerous options, touch screens, voice commands, writing capabilities, map displays, cameras, and in-car control.

“It’s adding more and more layers of complexity and information at drivers’ fingertips without often considering whether it’s a good idea to put it at their fingertips,” Strayer said. The increased technology

Vehicle manufacturers argue that all-in-one infotainment hubs provide a safer alternative to smartphones and separate navigation devices. They say the in-car systems were designed for in-drive use, whereas the individual devices were not.

The vehicle-integrated systems “are designed to be used in the driving environment and require driver attention that is comparable to tuning the radio or adjusting climate controls, which have always been considered baseline acceptable behaviours while driving,” said Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

Jake Nelson, AAA’s director for traffic safety advocacy and research, disagrees and says automakers must do more to make the systems safer. He says drivers of all 30 of the 2017 models and light trucks took their eyes off the road and removed hands from the wheel when using in-car systems.

Programming maps was the most distracting feature, taking an average of 40 seconds to complete.  

“Drivers want technology that is safe and easy to use,” said Marshall Doney, AAA’s president and CEO, “but many of the features added to infotainment systems today have resulted in overly complex and sometimes frustrating user experiences for drivers.”