Safety

Don't Touch that Dial!

New research suggests integrated in-vehicle "infotainment" technology is especially unsafe for older drivers.


Pop quiz: What's the fastest-growing demographic group in the United States, and on American roads? It's not teenagers. It's seniors, in fact, and by 2030 more than one in five drivers will be over the age of 65. You wouldn't know it by looking at emerging car technology, though: Per new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, in-vehicle "infotainment" systems are orders of magnitude more distracting to these older drivers than younger ones.

AAA research found that, on average, older drivers (age 55-75) removed their eyes and attention from the road for more than eight seconds longer than younger drivers (age 21-36) when performing simple tasks such as programming navigation or tuning the radio using in-vehicle infotainment systems. That's a problem, in part, because looking away from the road for just two seconds doubles a driver's crash risk.

"New cars are increasingly rolling off the line with advanced, in-vehicle technology intended to help drivers keep their eyes and attention on the road," said AAA Colorado spokesman Skyler McKinley. "The problem is that the complexity and cumbersome design of many of these systems actually increases the likelihood of a crash, especially among older drivers." 

Unsafe at any speed...or age.

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. 

Researchers found that the technology created potentially unsafe distractions for all drivers, though this safety risk is more pronounced for older adults, who took longer (4.7 to 8.6 seconds) to complete tasks and experienced both slower response times and increased visual distraction. 

Audio Entertainment
Younger Drivers (21-36 years): 18.0 seconds
Older Drivers (55-75 Years): 25.4 seconds

Calling and Dialing
Younger Drivers (21-36 years): 17.7 seconds
Older Drivers (55-75 Years): 22.4 seconds

Text Messaging
Younger Drivers (21-36 years): 27.7 seconds
Older Drivers (55-75 Years): 33.8 seconds 

Navigation Entry
Younger Drivers (21-36 years): 31.4 seconds
Older Drivers (55-75 Years): 40.0 seconds 

Specific design changes to in-vehicle infotainment systems – such as improving voice-command technology, simplifying software menus, removing complex center console controls, and positioning controls to allow drivers to keep their eyes on the road – would better meet the needs of older adults while making the systems safer for all drivers.


"Fundamentally, this isn't an age problem. It's a design problem," McKinley said. "When you design for aging drivers, it often results in more intuitive and comfortable interfaces that benefit all drivers for years to come."

Personal assessments about distraction caused by in-vehicle technologies are rarely accurate. For example, in some cases drivers reported that the systems were not-at-all demanding, even as researchers measured high levels of demand or longer task completion times.

Stay Safe Out There

Whether you purchase a new vehicle equipped with infotainment systems, or rent one while traveling, AAA recommends that all drivers keep the following tips in mind: 

  • Avoid interacting with in-vehicle infotainment technology while driving, except during 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 dangerous. 

Methodology

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 the 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 AAA Colorado

More than 695,000 members strong, AAA Colorado is the state’s most-trusted advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 59 million members with travel, insurance, financial, and automotive-related services — as well as member-exclusive savings. For more information, visit AAA.com.

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