SACO, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- A new study from AAA found new vehicle "infotainment" systems in cars, the digital control panels built into the dashboard, can be as distracting or more than texting.
Researchers tested 120 driver between the ages of 21 and 36, and asked them to use the technology to perform certain tasks while driving new 2017 model year vehicles.
The study found that 23 of the 30 different vehicles they tested required "high" or "very high" driver attention to use the technology. Some drivers were distracted for nearly 40 seconds while programming navigation. AAA researchers said that at 25 miles per hour, a person could cover the length of four football fields in 40 seconds. The technology is typically presented as a safer alternative to using a phone while driving.
"We've got an awful lots of buttons in the car," said driving instructor Ron Vance of GoDriving.co in Saco. "That's an awful lot for a teenager or even a beginner driver -- it can be overwhelming."
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety commissioned researchers from the University of Utah to examine the visual (eyes off road) and cognitive (mental) demand as well as the time it took drivers to complete a task using the infotainment systems in 30 new 2017 vehicles. Study participants were required to use voice command, touch screen and other interactive technologies to make a call, send a text message, tune the radio or program navigation, all while driving down the road.
Even older drivers called the technology cumbersome.
"If I want to do any navigation, I find it really hard to do, because I have to look over," said Karen True, who has a similar digital panel in her car. "I have to kind of stare at it, I have to find out how to navigate around it."
Some cars require the vehicle to be parked in order to type in navigation, but AAA reports that 12 out of the 30 vehicles it tested allows drivers to program navigation while driving.
“Drivers want technology that is safe and easy to use, but many of the features added to infotainment systems today have resulted in overly complex and sometimes frustrating user experiences for drivers,” said Pat Moody, manager of public affairs for AAA Northern New England.
“Some of the latest systems on the market now include functions unrelated to the core task of driving like sending text messages, checking social media or surfing the web -- tasks we have no business doing behind the wheel,” continued Moody. “Automakers should aim to reduce distractions by designing systems that are no more visually or mentally demanding than listening to the radio or an audiobook. And drivers should avoid the temptation to engage with these technologies, especially for non-driving tasks.”
In a statement, the Auto Alliance Driving Innovation said, "...researchers continue to make no attempt to tie their results to actual crash risk... or accurately simulate how drivers actually use these systems in the real world."