Infotainment systems more dangerous than alcohol or cannabis?

24 March 2020

24 March 2020

A new study has revealed the latest in-vehicle infotainment systems are impairing reaction times behind the wheel more than alcohol and cannabis use. Drivers’ reaction times slow by 12% at the drink-drive limit but this increases to 21% with cannabis. Using the touch display with Android Auto, reaction times increase to 53%, and up to 57% with Apple CarPlay.

Research undertaken by the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) on behalf of IAM RoadSmartthe FIA and the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund, found that reaction times at motorway speeds increased average stopping distances to between four and five car lengths.

Touchscreens most distracting

During the study, drivers completed a series of three drives on the same simulated test route to assess the impact of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. On the first run, there was no interaction with the systems. On subsequent runs, they interacted using voice control and then touch control only.

Both systems were found to be significantly distracting, but touchscreens proved to distract the driver the most. Many realised the system was distracting them and tried to compensate by slowing down, for example. However, their performance was still adversely affected, with drivers unable to maintain a constant distance with the vehicle in front, reacting more slowly to sudden occurrences and deviating outside of their lane.

Drivers who took their eyes off the road for as long as 16 seconds while driving and using touch controls resulted in reaction times that were worse than texting while driving (35% slower reaction time). Some also underestimated the amount of time they spent looking away from the road by as much as five seconds when engaged with these infotainment systems.

Third of all road collisions

‘Driver distraction is estimated to be a factor in around a third of all road collisions in Europe each year,’ said Neil Greig, policy and research director at IAM RoadSmart.

‘While previous research indicates that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto perform better than more traditional buttons and controls, the results from this latest study raise some serious concerns about the development and use of the latest in-vehicle infotainment systems. Anything that distracts a driver’s eyes or mind from the road is bad news for road safety.’

IAM RoadSmart is now calling on industry and governments to openly test and approve such systems, developing consistent standards which would help minimise distraction. They are also encouraging owners to use these systems as safely as possible, including setting things up before they begin their journey.

‘Most participants in the study report they use touch rather than voice control in real-world driving. As the results clearly show, this is the most distracting, so if there is a need to use the systems while on the go, voice control is a far safer method,’ Greig added.