It’s a secret to no one that smartphones have embedded themselves into our culture and daily lives. Their rapid spread has encouraged other industries to incorporate mobile technology into their offerings and the auto industry is no different. So-called “infotainment systems” are appearing in many of today’s new car models, and that has raised concerns about their contribution to the rise in distracted driving.
Conditions on the road can change dramatically in only a few seconds, which is why it is imperative that drivers concentrate while operating their vehicles. Failure to do so can leave a driver unprepared to respond to traffic suddenly stopping, a pedestrian crossing the street, an animal running across the road, or another vehicle merging into their lane.
Can new infotainment technology be less distracting?
It is possible for these systems to be less of a distraction, as two top technology companies have demonstrated. Apple CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto have proven to be less distracting than the native systems created by auto manufacturers.
But even though the systems offered by the tech giants are safer than native systems, they don’t eliminate the issue altogether. Researchers from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety teamed with researchers from the University of Utah to measure the level of attention they needed for each task. Overall, it was found they require moderate attention and may still result in a crash. However, the fact that they performed better shows that progress can be made to make these systems safer for drivers and cut down on distracted driving.
On average, these systems were 24 percent (5 seconds) faster when making calls. When programming navigation, these systems were 15 seconds or 31 percent faster, but they still required about 30 seconds of attention. The faster times indicate a better ease of use and that translates to a safer driving experience. Those extra seconds are critical, as looking off of the road for just two seconds doubles your risk of an accident.
Since 2011, distracted driving rates have increased to the point that an average of 3,500 people die each year from accidents caused by inattentive drivers. Many of these crashes can be directly attributed to smartphones, but infotainment systems are also a major culprit. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for law enforcement to prove that an infotainment system or other device caused a driver's distraction. Checking those systems may require a search warrant, as in the case of the Uber test driver whose autonomous vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in March 2018.