AAA: Distracted Driving Now Standard in New Cars, Thanks to In-Dash Devices

Distracted driving isn’t just about texting — it’s the mental effort of multi-tasking that makes people less alert and more dangerous behind the wheel. As hands-free devices like in-dash, voice-activated computer systems proliferate in new-model cars, they create additional risks. Using these devices can cause lingering distractions for up to 27 seconds after the task is completed, according to new research from AAA [PDF].

Using a voice-activated computer while driving is mentally taxing.

The researchers measured how well people could focus on driving while using “in-vehicle information systems” that allow them to perform tasks like making calls or browsing music with voice commands, compared to their focus while doing nothing but driving.

Researchers observed 257 drivers and found that certain types of hands-free activities — like composing texts or emails — were highly distracting and resulted in “long-lasting residual costs after… interactions had terminated.” The effects did not diminish as people got more practice with the systems, and distraction was greater among older drivers than younger drivers.

The study used a speech-to-text system that was “perfectly reliable.” Each participant’s speech was entered into the computer system by a research assistant. So translation problems with Siri were not a factor in drivers’ distractedness.

The study comes as hands-free computer systems that enable electronic communication are becoming standard equipment. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is currently developing “voluntary guidelines” for automakers to help minimize the safety problems, AAA reports, but has not yet proposed more binding restrictions on this type of technology.

  • Matthias

    Yay, something worthwhile from AAA!

  • reasonableexplanation

    With the massive amount of people I see using their phones to text while driving even in a state with rather harsh penalties (5 points and a large fine in NY)… Maybe the in-car infotaiment systems, even if they’re not great, are better than the current alternative, no?

  • LCIslander

    That’s the same as someone saying, “Now I drink beer when I drive, but I used to drink whiskey.”

  • reasonableexplanation

    I get where you’re coming from, but in the spirit of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good: wouldn’t it be better if some of those people that are currently straight up texting while driving were to switch to these in-car systems? The penalties for texting while driving are already pretty high… so; is there a better solution in the short term?

  • I’m a cyclist, I don’t own a car. I also hate reading comments.

    Providing a regulated system that incorporates a user interface designed to not distract the user over just having folks text and chat on their phone with one hand is not the same as providing beer over whiskey. But if you want to go that route, it would be nice if major cities just banned non-commercial cars all together instead of going in the direction of this solution.

  • Jason

    My favorite implementation of anything like this was driving a Lexus with a little holographic speedometer display on the windshield. That was it. Even that probably isn’t 100% distraction-free, but it has to be better than having to take your eyes off the road to check your speed.

  • The AAA Foundation is pretty good.

  • Thanks, Angie. Just forwarded the link to the AAA paper to our institutional safety committee. –Khal

  • Andrewwd

    This isn’t going to mitigate the people straight up texting; the problem is that law abiding drivers are exposed to a level of distraction that they don’t appreciate. They assume that the system in their car is safe to use.

  • reasonableexplanation

    Why do you think it won’t mitigate straight up texting?

  • Larry

    You totally miss the facts! These in car systems are just as dangerous, distraction is distraction period… either way your risking peoples lives,,,, there is NO GOOD WAY to risk lives!!

  • reasonableexplanation

    Right, but what’s your solution then? Ban infotainment systems and feel smug while drivers continue to use their phones as they’re doing right now?

    That these systems are still distracting is understood; but it’s important to ask; is it better than what we have now?

  • Larry

    Ban these systems & have in vehicle cell blockers so NONE of it can be used while operating a motor vehicle. Anyone finding a way around this and caught should be charged with attempted murder.
    And how is being distracted for 27 Seconds better than what we have now? Like I said, there is NO BETTER when attempting to KILL PEOPLE!!! How can one form of murder be better than another form?

  • reasonableexplanation

    On the internet, all caps means yelling. Please don’t yell 🙂

    Cell blockers are problematic for several reasons;
    -Blockers strong enough to reliably work would block calls outside of the car too (pedestrians, etc).
    -The FCC generally frowns upon transmitting blocking signal on public bands.
    -Any signal blocker would also block the cell phones of passengers.
    -There are legit uses of cell phones in cars that this would prevent; e.g. GPS navigation, receiving calls through the stereo system via bluetooth, etc.

    As for charging someone with attempted murder for using their cellphone in a car… I think it’s evident that that would be unreasonable, never mind un-provable beyond a reasonable doubt in a courtroom.

    So, let’s try to aim for reality-based solutions to distracted driving. One part of this is penalties; in NY that’s 5 points on your license and a large fine. Now let’s talk harm reduction; car companies have proposed infotainment systems.

    What would you propose on both fronts?

  • rao

    It doesn’t reduce harm. It makes it easier for drivers to be distracted, increases the frequency of distractions, and normalizes distracted behavior. So it is worse than looking at a phone.

    There will never be cell blockers, so the only solution is some version of self-driving cars.

  • Larry

    LMAO! YELLING!! How do you YELL when it’s typing,,, Too Funny, it’s called EMFASIZING. It would be very easy to prove you were on a phone or texting from a cell phone, each call & text is recorded with the time & date and possibly location as well, how is that evident it’s unreasonable? Also recall every licence holder and have every new person getting a licence to sign a document in order to keep/obtain a licence that declares the acknowledgement of DRIVING DISTRACTED or DUI is punishable with the charge of Murder or Attempted Murder, that way no lawyer could argue Ignorance to that fact, it’s well know that people DIE or are INJURED EVERYDAY from both activities while operating a motor vehicle. As far as blockers go, pull off the road to use a phone where the vehicle has to be in park, and passengers can wait as well, humans survived for multiple DECADES without the NEED for phones in vehicles, your so called legit reasons are irrelevant, your just making excuses to KILL people vs Convenience. Vehicles should be for transporting goods and people to various locations, not MOBILE ENTERTAINMENT systems.

  • User_1

    This has to be a bad idea if AAA is reporting this! I haven’t driven in over 6 yrs, so I really don’t have any experience with using a phone while driving. When I do have a call while riding my bicycle, I either pull off the road or don’t answer. Cause I don’t want to die!

  • Anne A

    “The penalties for texting while driving are already pretty high”

    Those penalties are meaningless if enforcement is not done.

  • reasonableexplanation

    I can’t speak for other regions, but in NY, if a cop sees you on the phone, you’re getting pulled over and ticketed for anything they can find (it’s a primary offense in NY). So… how much more can you enforce it?

  • Anne A

    That RARELY happens in Chicago. If it happened on a regular basis in random locations (not once-in-a-blue-moon stings), it would do a LOT to improve safety here.

  • Yes, if a cop sees a driver texting, then that driver can get stopped. But the problem is that cops can see only a small fraction of these events, with the result being that the risk of being caught for any given driver at any particular time is extremely low. This is why the behaviour is so exceedingly common.

  • reasonableexplanation

    So, is there a better way to enforce this?

  • It seems to me that the only solution to the texting-while-driving problem would be a technological one. But, of course, the crazies who dominate American political life will always make this undoable.

    Yet even in a sane society, there would be several actual challenges involved in stopping only those functions which we seek to target while allowing for emergency communication and also for the use of bandwidth for established purposes such as radio. And this doesn’t even take into account the functionality of modern cars which relies increasingly on the use of bandwidth.

    So the upshot of all this is that we are stuck with this problem indefinitely.

  • R.A. Stewart

    Once-in-a-blue-moon AND heavily pre-publicized stings, as somebody (might have been you in fact, Anne) noted in a comment on another article.

  • BG60093

    “certain types of hands-free activities — like composing texts or
    emails — were highly distracting and resulted in ‘long-lasting residual
    costs after… interactions had terminated.'”

    How is this different from thinking about what one wants to say to a passenger?

  • jarendt

    “Watch out!” Passengers usually can see the traffic and respond to it in the conversation. http://www.distraction.gov/downloads/pdfs/passenger-and-cell-phone-conversations-in-simulated-driving.pdf

  • Rachel Sonowa

    I totally agree with the all questions you raised. I think it could also be useful for everyone to know how and where to fill a form online. You will be surprised how easy it can be to fill forms. Try fillingl TREC 40-5 through the online sowtware http://goo.gl/lcwDLn

  • Beth Trangore

    Excellent analysis . Coincidentally , if your company was looking for a NY DTF ST-125 , my boss filled out and faxed a sample form here http://goo.gl/EyzWD5

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