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Univ. of Utah study finds many infotainment systems too distracting to be used when vehicle in motion

Many of the infotainment features in most 2017 vehicles are so distracting they should not be enabled while a vehicle is in motion, according to a new study by University of Utah researchers. The study, led by University of Utah Psychology Professor David L. Strayer, found In-Vehicle Information Systems take drivers’ attention off the road for too long to be safe.

The study, conducted the study for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, reviewed infotainment systems in 30 different 2017 vehicles. Participants were required to engage in four types of tasks using voice, touch screen and other interactive technologies. The tasks were to make a call, send a text message, tune the radio or program navigation while driving.

The team developed an advanced rating scale to measure which tasks were most distracting, how they affect visual, cognitive and manual demands on drivers and whether interactions were easier to perform in some vehicles than others. The scale ranged from low to very high demand; low demand is equivalent to listening to the radio, while very high demand is equivalent to balance a checkbook in your head while driving, according to AAA.

The researchers found drivers using features such as voice-based and touch-screen technology took their hands, eyes and mind off the road for more than 24 seconds to complete tasks.

Utah
Interaction time as a function of vehicle for the on-road assessment. The dashed vertical red line represents the 24-second task interaction referent. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals. Source: “Visual and Cognitive Demands of Using In-Vehicle Infotainment Systems”. Click to enlarge.

Previous research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the risk of a crash doubles when a driver takes his or her eyes off the road for two seconds.

This is troublesome because motorists may assume that features that are enabled when they are driving are safe and easy to use. Greater consideration should be given to what interactions should be available to the driver when the vehicle is in motion rather than to what features and functions could be available to motorists.

With the best intentions, we will put some technology in the car that we think will make the car safer, but people being people will use that technology in ways that we don’t anticipate.

—David Strayer

In the new study, programming navigation was the most distracting task—taking drivers on average 40 seconds to complete. When driving at 25 mph, a driver can travel the length of four football fields during the time it could take to enter a destination in navigation—all while distracted from the important task of driving.

Text messaging was the second most distracting task; audio entertainment and calling and dialing were the easiest to perform and did not significantly differ in overall demand.

The researchers also found surprisingly large differences between vehicles as far as workload required to operate the systems. 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

The 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.

We’re putting more and more technology in the car that just does not mix with driving. We’re expecting to see more and more problems associated with distracted driving as more stuff is at the fingertips of the driver to distract them.

—David Strayer

AAA said it hoped the new research would help automakers and system designers improve the functionality of new infotainment systems and the workload they require of drivers, which it said should not exceed a low-level of demand.

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