New In-Vehicle Technology Systems Create Increased Distractions Behind the Wheel

AAA Foundation study reveals in-vehicle technology takes one step forward, two steps back

Traffic Safety

ST. LOUIS PARK (October 5, 2017) – New vehicle infotainment systems distract drivers for potentially dangerous periods of time, by diverting drivers’ eyes and attention off the roads and hands off the wheel, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

AAA has conducted this research to help automakers and system designers improve the functionality of infotainment systems and the demand they place on drivers.

Drivers using in-vehicle technologies like voice-based and touch screen features were visually and mentally distracted for more than 40 seconds when completing tasks like programming navigation or sending a text message.

Removing eyes from the road for just two seconds doubles the risk for a crash, according to previous research. With one in three U.S. adults using infotainment systems while driving, AAA cautions that using these technologies while behind the wheel can have dangerous consequences.

“The problem is that when we attempt to use these systems while we also perform the already very complex task of driving, it creates situations in which our brains are unable to process all of the necessary information required for a driving task.  At that point, the risk to ourselves, to our passengers, and to others around us is elevated, and tragedies can take place”, said Mike Torkelson, Licensed Driving Instructor for AAA Minneapolis.

Programming navigation was the most distracting task, taking an average of 40 seconds for drivers to complete. When driving at 25 mph, a driver can travel the length of four football fields during the time it could take to enter a destination in navigation—all while distracted from the important task of driving. Programming navigation while driving was available in 12 of the 30 vehicle systems tested.

Researchers from the University of Utah developed an advanced rating scale to measure the visual (eyes off road) and cognitive (mental) demands and the time it took to complete a task experienced by drivers using each vehicle’s infotainment system. The scale ranged from low to very high levels of demand.

 A low level of demand equates to listening to the radio or an audiobook, while very high demand is equivalent to trying to balance a checkbook while driving. AAA believes a safe in-vehicle technology system should not exceed a low level of demand. 

Researchers found that most infotainment systems tested could be made safer by following federal recommendations such as locking out text messaging, social media and programming navigation while the car is in motion.

A total of 120 drivers ages 21-36 participated in the study of 30 new 2017 model-year vehicles.  AAA is providing brief individual reports for all of the vehicles evaluated. The reports can help consumers learn more about the system found in their current vehicle and/or to inform their next vehicle purchase. To see individual vehicles’ overall ratings, go to