New cars increasingly crammed with distracting technology

  • Modern cars are being stuffed full of new tech and
    screens — and that’s a problem.
  • Drivers are taking their eyes off the road for
    dangerous amounts of time, the AAA says.
  • And the “explosion of technology” is making things
    worse and worse.

tesla model s infotainment navigation map
Screens, screens everywhere.
Business Insider

WASHINGTON (AP) — The infotainment technology that automakers are
cramming into the dashboard of new vehicles is making drivers
take their eyes off the road and hands off the wheel for
dangerously long periods of time, an AAA study says.

The study released Thursday is the latest by University of Utah
professor David Strayer, who has been examining the impact of
infotainment systems on safety for AAA’s Foundation for Traffic
Safety since 2013. Past studies also identified problems, but
Strayer said the “explosion of technology” has made things worse.

Automakers now include more infotainment options to allow drivers
to use social media, email and text. The technology is also
becoming more complicated to use. Cars used to have a few buttons
and knobs. Some vehicles now have as many as 50 buttons on the
steering wheel and dashboard that are multi-functional. There are
touch screens, voice commands, writing pads, heads-up displays on
windshields and mirrors and 3-D computer-generated images.

“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. That
complexity increases the overall amount of time drivers spend
trying to use the systems.

The auto industry says the new systems are better alternatives
for drivers than mobile phones and navigation devices that were
not designed to be used while driving.

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 behaviors
while driving,” said Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of
Automobile Manufacturers.

But Jake Nelson, AAA’s director for traffic safety advocacy and
research, said drivers testing all 30 of the 2017 model year cars
and light trucks took their eyes off the road and hands off the
wheel while using infotainment systems. The test drivers used
voice commands, touch screens and other interactive technologies
to make calls, send texts, tune the radio or program navigation
all while driving.

Clearly automakers haven’t worked hard enough to make the systems
quick and easy to use, Nelson said. Researchers rated 23 of the
30 vehicles “very high” or “high” in terms of the attention they
demanded from drivers. Seven were rated “moderate.” None required
a low amount of attention to use.

Programming a destination into in-vehicle GPS navigation systems
was the most distracting activity, taking drivers an average of
40 seconds to complete the task. At 25 mph (40 kph), a car can
travel the length of four football fields during the time it
takes to enter a destination. Previous research has shown that
drivers who remove their eyes from the road for just two seconds
double their risk for a crash.

Under pressure from industry, the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration in 2012 issued voluntary safety guidelines to
automakers for dashboard technology instead of enforceable safety
standards. The guidelines recommend that automakers lock out the
ability to program navigation systems while a car is moving.
However, the ability to program navigation while driving was
available in 12 vehicles in the study.

honda cr-v infotainment

Business Insider/Danielle

The guidelines also recommend automakers prevent drivers from
texting while driving, but three-quarters of the vehicles tested
permit drivers to text while the car is moving. Texting was the
second-most distracting task performed by test drivers.

Drivers looked away from the road less when using voice commands,
but that safety benefit was offset by the increased amount of
time drivers spent interacting with the systems.

AAA said drivers should use infotainment technologies “only for
legitimate emergencies or urgent, driving-related purposes.” It
also urged automakers to block the ability to program navigation
systems or send texts while driving. Automakers should also
design infotainment systems so that they require no more
attention to use than listening to the radio or an audiobook, it

Nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults say they want the new
technologies in their vehicles, but only 24 percent feel that the
technology already works perfectly, according to an opinion
survey conducted for AAA.

“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


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