New technology a distraction to older drivers


COLUMBUS — In-vehicle infotainment technology creates potentially unsafe distractions for all drivers, but is especially demanding for older adults (ages 55-75), according to new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research. On average, older drivers removed their eyes and attention from the road for more than eight seconds longer than younger drivers (ages 21-36), when performing tasks like programming navigation, texting, calling or tuning the radio using in-vehicle infotainment technology.

“Voice-command functions found in new in-vehicle technology are intended to help drivers by keeping their eyes and attention on the road,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Unfortunately, the complexity and poor design of some of these systems could cause more harm for older drivers, in particular, instead of helping them.”

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.

Studying distraction:

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety partnered with researchers from the University of Utah to test the visual and cognitive demand created by 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.

While the technology created potentially unsafe distractions for all drivers, the safety risk is more pronounced for older drivers, who took longer (4.7-8.6 seconds) to complete tasks, experienced slower response times and increased visual distractions. Past research shows removing eyes from the road for two seconds doubles the risk for a crash.

The top techology causing delays for drivers include: audio entertainment; calling and dialing; text messaging; and navigation entry.

This is the seventh phase of distracted driving research commissioned by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Previous studies have shown:

  • Hands-free is not risk-free
  • Increased mental workload and mental distractions can lead to a type of tunnel vision, where motorists don’t see potential hazards right in front of them.
  • As mental workload increases, reaction time slows and brain function is compromised.
  • Mental distractions can persist for as long as 27 seconds after using voice commands, which suggests using these systems while at stop signs or red lights is not recommended.
  • Practice doesn’t make perfect. As drivers gain experience using infotainment systems, the distraction these systems cause remains.

Complex systems are dangerous for all drivers:

In addition, AAA Foundation research has also shown the complex design of the technology creates increased visual and cognitive demand, especially for older drivers.

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

“This is a design problem, not an age problem,” said Jake Nelson, AAA director of traffic safety advocacy and research. “Designing systems to meet the safety and comfort of aging drivers would benefit all of us today, and for years to come.”

AAA recommends all drivers:

  • 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 the use of a center console controller when using the infotainment system. These kinds of systems are especially distracting and potentially dangerous.
  • Also, drivers should remember that just because a system is built into a vehicle, doesn’t mean it’s safe to use while driving.

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. To learn more about the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, visit AAAFoundation.org.

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Staff report