Study: In-Car Infotainment Systems Lead To Increased And Deadly Driver Distractions

Creature comforts inside automobiles are becoming increasingly sophisticated, with a larger emphasis placed on the infotainment system. However, drivers should use caution when fiddling around with in-vehicle electronics. There have been numerous reports and studies of the ill effects of distracted driving, and it is no longer mostly relegated to texting. New research commissioned by the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety underscores what previous studies have already indicated—that distracted driving is a growing problem.

The study points out that it can take around 40 seconds to program a car's navigation system. In a vehicle that is traveling at a speed of just 25 miles per hour, that driver would have motored the length of around three football fields before in the time it takes to configure the in-car navigation.

Chevy MyLink
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Compounding the issue is the length of time it takes our brains to refocus on the task at hand, which is driving. Let's say a driver sends a text or email while behind the wheel. The study found that drivers remain distracted for up to 27 seconds after performing such a task. Think about that for a moment—nearly half a minute can go by before a driver is fully focused on the road, after firing off a text message.

"What we found is that you’re not cognitively focused on driving, but the distraction," said Beth Mosher, spokeswoman for the American Automobile Association in Chicago.

The study was performed by researchers at the University of Utah. It focused on the infotainment systems of 30 vehicles, each ranked by the level of distraction—low, moderate, high ,and very high—be it visual, cognitive, or both. The research consisted of 120 drivers between the ages of 21 and 36.

That is a decent sample size, though not surprisingly, the automobile industry took exception to the methodology. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing automakers, pointed out that the results were not tied to crash results.

The study also contradicted other findings, such as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety listing the Audi Q7 as one of the safest vehicles on the road. Armed with touchscreen and voice-based technologies, researchers pegged the Audi Q7 as having a "very high" level of distraction.

"Automakers agree that hands on the wheel and eyes on the road continue to be critical to safe driving," Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told Chicago Tribune in an email. "Portable phones and navigation devices are everywhere, and consumers are using these devices in their vehicles. It’s important to discourage drivers from using portable electronics because they were never designed to be used while driving."

This is far from the first study to point out the dangers of distracted driving, with infotainment systems being a point of focus. In response, some have called for automakers to allow drivers to disable certain infotainment controls while the vehicle is running.

Thumbnail Image Source: Flickr (Land Rover MENA)

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