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University of Utah Marketing & Communication
New research led by David Strayer, professor of psychology at the University of Utah, concludes that infotainment systems in 2017 model cars distracted drivers too long to be safely operated while vehicles are in motion.

SALT LAKE CITY — Many infotainment system features in most 2017 automobiles distract drivers too long to be safely operated while the vehicles are in motion, a new study by University of Utah researchers concludes.

The study, led by psychology professor David L. Strayer, found that in-vehicle information systems that enable drivers to place telephone calls, text, tune radios or deploy navigation systems take drivers’ attention off the road for too long to be safe.

"We’re putting more and more technology in the car that just does not mix with driving,” Strayer said in a prepared statement. “We’re expecting to see more problems associated with distracted driving as more stuff is at the fingertips of the driver to distract them.”

Researchers reviewed infotainment systems in 30 different 2017 vehicles. They assessed paid participants as they placed telephone calls, sent text messages, tuned radios or programmed navigation using voice, touch screen and other interactive technologies.

Programming navigation was determined to be the most distracting task — taking drivers on average 40 seconds to complete.

The risk of a crash doubles when a driver takes his or her eyes off the road for two seconds, according to previous research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The researchers found that drivers using features such as voice-based and touch-screen technology took their hands, eyes and mind off the road for more than 24 seconds to complete tasks.

“This is troublesome because motorists may assume that features that are enabled when they are driving are safe and easy to use,” Strayer said.

The research team developed an advanced rating scale to measure which tasks were most distracting, how they affected visual, cognitive and manual demands on drivers and whether interactions were easier to perform in some vehicles than others.

The scale ranged from low demand, equivalent to listening to the radio, to high demand, comparable to balancing a checkbook in your head while driving, according to AAA.

Text messaging was the second-most distracting task; audio entertainment and calling and dialing were the easiest to perform, and did not significantly differ in overall demand.

The researchers also found surprisingly large differences among vehicles with respect to the workload required to operate the systems.

“With the best intentions, we will put some technology in the car that we think will make the car safer, but people being people will use that technology in ways that we don’t anticipate,” Strayer said.

The study, conducted for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, was also authored by Joel M. Cooper, research associate professor; research associates Rachel M. Goethe, Madeleine M. McCarty and Douglas Getty; and Francesco Biondi, research assistant professor.

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The study's executive summary says "greater consideration should be given to what interactions should be available to the driver when the vehicle is in motion rather than to what (in-vehicle infotainment system) features and functions could be available to motorists.

AAA hopes the new research will help automakers and system designers improve the functionality of new infotainment systems and the workload they require of drivers, which it said should not exceed a low-level of demand, according to a university news release.