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AAA: 'Explosion' of dashboard technology proves very distracting

A new study by AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety raises serious questions about all the new "infotainment" technology automakers are packing into new vehicles. The study found that, even where the in-vehicle technology was less distracting than a cellphone app, it caused more distraction overall because it was used more.

It's getting worse, according to the University of Utah professor who performed the study for AAA. He said that prior studies have indicated the problem, but that an "explosion of technology" may be putting people at serious risk.

AAA knows that a majority of U.S. adults say they want these infotainment systems. It performed an opinion survey that found that. However, only 24 percent of respondents felt that the technology is already working perfectly.

Automakers argue that integrating the technology into the vehicle makes it safer than the alternative, which is using similar apps on smartphones. Their goal, according to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, is to create options that are no more distracting than changing the radio station or adjusting the climate controls.

According to AAA, however, there can be as many as 50 multi-function buttons on some vehicles' steering wheel and dashboard. It's a far cry from the traditional standard of just a few knobs and controls.

Moreover, these new infotainment systems often involve heads-up displays on the windshield and mirror, 3-D images, touch screens and even writing pads. These certainly seem more complicated than systems meant to allow drivers to answer phone calls hands-free.

"It's adding more and more layers of complexity and information at drivers' fingertips without often considering whether it's a good idea to put it at their fingertips," said the professor.

What did the study find about how distracting these systems are?

The study considered 30 cars and light trucks from model year 2017. Drivers using infotainment systems in all of the vehicles were noticeably distracted. They took their eyes off the road and hands off the wheel. 23 of the 30 vehicles rated "very high" or "high" in terms of distraction; none received a "low" distraction score.

The most distracting activity was programming a GPS navigation system, which took an average of 40 seconds to complete. At only 25 mph, a vehicle travels the length of four football fields during that time. Past research has found that drivers double their crash risk when they take their eyes off the road for two seconds.

In 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued voluntary guidelines asking carmakers to disable GPS programming while the vehicle is in motion. 12 out of the 30 vehicles tested still allowed it.

Do you think in-vehicle technology is becoming too distracting?

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