Drivers were visually and mentally distracted for 17 to 40 seconds when completing tasks like programming navigation or sending a text message

25 July 2019

Now that texting while driving is illegal in Florida, drivers are now more likely than ever to utilize voice-to-text or other in-vehicle infotainment systems. However, new research from AAA shows that this technology still creates potentially dangerous distractions for all drivers, yet the risk is highest among older adults.

B-ROLL (preview & download) – Older drivers become distracted by in-vehicle technology

AAA Tested Two Age Groups 

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety partnered with researchers from the University of Utah to test the visual and cognitive demand created by the infotainment systems in six 2018 vehicles. Study participants in two age groups (21-36 and 55-75) were required to use voice commands, touch screens and other interactive technologies to make a call, send a text message, tune the radio, or program navigation, all while driving.

Older Drivers Were Distracted the Longest  

During the study, drivers used voice-based and touch screen in-vehicle technology features. Both older and younger drivers were visually and mentally distracted for 17 to 40 seconds when completing tasks like programming navigation or sending a text message. The distraction was more significant among older drivers (ages 55-75), who removed their eyes and attention from the road for more than eight seconds longer than younger drivers (ages 21-36).
 

Completion Time by Task Type
  Audio Entertainment Calling and Dialing Text Messaging Navigation Entry
Younger (21-36 yrs) 18.0 sec 17.7 sec 27.7 sec 31.4 sec
Older (55-75 yrs) 25.4 sec 22.4 sec 33.8 sec 40.0 sec


“Regardless of their age, drivers should be very cautious when using in-vehicle infotainment systems,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Drivers may be lulled into a false sense of security that since they’re not using their handheld device, they are a more focused driver. AAA warns that many of these systems are so complex or poorly designed that they divert the driver’s attention away from where it should be – the road.”

Seniors are the Fastest Growing Demo in the U.S.

By 2030, more than one in five drivers on the road will be over the age of 65. With seniors becoming the fastest growing demographic in the U.S., finding ways to design technology to improve their comfort and safety is critical and may hold the key to enhancing the safe use of this technology for all drivers.

Technology Interface is Too Complex

The complex design of the technology created increased visual and cognitive demand for older drivers. For example, some systems included multiple menus and cumbersome voice command functions that significantly reduced older drivers’ ability to easily complete seemingly simple tasks.

AAA Recommendations to Automakers

Specific design changes would better meet the needs of older adults and make the systems safer for all drivers, like:

  • Improving voice-command technology
  • Simplifying software menus
  • Removing complex center console controls
  • Positioning system controls to allow drivers to keep their eyes on the road

“This is a design problem, not an age problem,” Jenkins said. “Designing systems to meet the safety and comfort needs of aging drivers would benefit all of us today, and for years to come.”

Perception vs. Reality

During the study, personal assessments about distraction caused by in-vehicle technologies are not always accurate. For example, in some cases drivers reported the use of the systems as less demanding even though researchers measured higher levels of demand or longer task completion times.

AAA Tips for Drivers

Whether you purchase a new vehicle or rent one while traveling, AAA recommends that all drivers - especially older drivers - keep the following tips in mind:

  • Avoid interacting with in-vehicle infotainment technology while driving except for legitimate emergencies.
  • Practice using the voice command and touch screen functions when not driving to build comfort in case emergency use is required.
  • Avoid vehicles that require use of a center console controller when using the infotainment system. These kinds of systems are especially distracting, and potentially dangerous.

Built-In Systems vs. Apple CarPlay & Android Auto

Previous AAA research revealed that built-in vehicle infotainment systems are more distracting to drivers than both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto systems. This year’s study evaluated the native systems in six new 2018 vehicles. Similar to previous research, none of the six vehicle infotainment systems produced low demand, while five systems generated high or very high levels of demand on drivers.   

About the Study
A total of 128 drivers ages 21-36 and 55-75 participated in the study of six 2018 model-year vehicles. The latest report is the seventh phase of distraction research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Visit AAA.com/distraction to learn more.

About AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
Established in 1947 by AAA, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a nonprofit, publicly funded, 501(c)(3) charitable research and educational organization. The AAA Foundation’s mission is to prevent traffic deaths and injuries by conducting research into their causes and by educating the public about strategies to prevent crashes and reduce injuries when they do occur. This research is used to develop educational materials for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and other road users. Visit www.AAAFoundation.org.

About The Auto Club Group 
The Auto Club Group (ACG) is the second largest AAA club in North America. ACG and its affiliates provide membership, insurance, financial services and travel offerings to over 9.9 million members across eleven states and two U.S. territories including Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; most of Illinois and Minnesota; and a portion of Indiana. ACG belongs to the national AAA federation with more than 59 million members in the United States and Canada and whose mission includes protecting and advancing freedom of mobility and improving traffic safety. Motorists can map a route, identify gas prices, find discounts, book a hotel, and access AAA roadside assistance with the AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. Learn more at AAA.com/mobile. Visit AAA on the Internet at AAA.com.