Those who could benefit the most are the most likely to struggle using the technology

BOISE – (July 25, 2019) – Many new automobiles come equipped with in-vehicle information systems (IVIS) that provide drivers with the ability to talk, text, email, and navigate – behaviors that AAA says are highly distracting and, in many cases, unrelated to safe driving.

But for senior drivers, the problem is even worse.  According to new research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Utah, advanced vehicle systems produce a much higher mental and visual workload for older drivers than for their younger counterparts, further emphasizing the dangers of an unintended trade-off between convenience and safety.

As part of AAA’s latest research, younger drivers between 21-36 years of age and older drivers between 55-75 years of age were evaluated as they completed various activities behind the wheel using voice commands, center consoles, and center stack displays.  Senior drivers took longer to complete IVIS tasks; inputting an address into the navigation system took longer than anything else.  Overall, older drivers experienced and reported higher levels of cognitive and visual demand (over eight seconds longer) for both IVIS and baseline tasks than younger drivers.

“When designed properly, technology can provide an important solution to seniors who may have experienced a loss in dexterity, but today’s systems add a lot of unnecessary distraction in the process,” says AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde.  “We hope that automakers will continue to improve their information systems to the benefit of all drivers.”  Increased distraction prevents drivers from recognizing and responding to hazards in their environment.

Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of crashes and fatalities.  Removing your eyes from the road for just two seconds doubles the risk of a crash.  Texting or talking while driving elevates the crash risk by up to four times, whether the device is hand-held or hands-free.  AAA has long held that hands-free is not risk free, because the brain can still be overloaded by distraction.

In 2017, the most recent year on record, approximately 4,800 distracted driving crashes led to 39 deaths in Idaho.  One in five crashes in the Gem State was linked to distracted driving, and although crash stats were down for 2017, the average change from 2013 to 2016 reveals a growing trend (a two percent average increase in crashes, 16 percent increase in fatalities, and a four percent average increase in serious injuries).

On average, tasks involving auditory/voice commands took the longest to complete.  Center stack interactions were the shortest.  Both age groups finished music programming and calling/dialing faster than text messaging and navigation, which took more than 24 seconds to complete.

“Driving in a constantly-changing environment is challenging enough.  We don’t need additional distractions to make it worse,” Conde said.  “Based on AAA’s research, drivers should avoid using IVIS unless there’s an urgent need to do so.  Communication and navigation activities are best left in the hands of a trusty co-pilot.”

Automakers have taken steps in the right direction, but more needs to be done.  Through additional adjustments, including positioning interactive screens closer to the normal field of vision, carefully designing buttons and dials, and simplifying menu options and commands, drivers may eventually be able to perform these complex functions in a safe and short amount of time.  AAA recommends that all activities be no more demanding than listening to the radio or an audiobook.

“There are plenty of things that drivers of all ages can do right now to minimize their level of distraction,” Conde said.  “Please put your electronics out of reach and keep at least one ear free to be able to hear a horn or siren.  Also, eliminate things in your routine, like eating or applying makeup, that could prevent you from putting your full attention on driving.  Someday, technology may have all the answers, but until then, we’ve got to do our part.”