AAA: ‘Infotainment’ centers a major distraction for drivers

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Texting while driving is a well-known distraction for drivers, exponentially increasing the likelihood of a crash.

But a new study from AAA reveals that a driver’s greatest distraction could be the one embedded in their dashboard.

As cars evolve and technology becomes more advanced, entertainment consoles are becoming increasingly complex. With sleek touch screens and options to stream music, use navigation and even surf the web, drivers are increasingly focusing on their dashboard instead of the road.

“Some of the latest systems on the market now include functions unrelated to the core task of driving like sending text messages, checking social media or surfing the web — tasks we have no business doing behind the wheel,” said Lloyd Albert, AAA Northeast’s Senior Vice President of Public and Government Affairs. “Automakers should aim to reduce distractions by designing systems that are no more visually or mentally demanding than listening to the radio or an audiobook. And drivers should avoid the temptation to engage with these technologies, especially for non-driving tasks.”

Known as “infotainment centers,”  these touch screen panels require drivers to look at the screen for longer periods than a traditional radio would.

According to AAA, looking away from the road for even two seconds doubles the likelihood of a crash. Any longer than that only increases the risk.

“Some in-vehicle technology can create unsafe situations for drivers on the road by increasing the time they spend with their eyes and attention off the road and hands off the wheel,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “When an in-vehicle technology is not properly designed, simple tasks for drivers can become complicated and require more effort from drivers to complete.”

In their study, AAA examined 30 new vehicles and assessed the visual and cognitive demands of each vehicle’s infotainment system. Of these 30 vehicles, 23 were found to have “high” or “very high” levels of demand.

To lower risk and make systems safer, AAA recommends that automakers follow the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s voluntary guidelines. These include locking out certain features while a car is in motion, including text messaging, entering navigation and social media access.

“These are solvable problems. By following NHTSA’s voluntary guidelines to lock out certain features that generate high demand while driving, automakers can significantly reduce distraction,” Albert added. “AAA cautions drivers that just because a technology is available while driving does not mean it is safe or easy to use when behind the wheel. Drivers should only use these technologies for legitimate emergencies or urgent, driving related purposes.”

The report on AAA’s study was released by their Center for Driving Safety and Technology. To learn more about decreasing distractions while driving and new vehicle technologies, visit AAA.com/distraction.