Infotainment Systems are Convenient, But Not Necessarily Safe

Source: Ford

Everyone agrees that distracted driving is not a good thing, in any way, shape or form. Naturally, this has led to auto manufacturers developing new and innovative technologies that allow drivers to keep their attention on the road while also offering top-flight entertainment options simultaneously. A bit counterintuitive, no? That is what has led to distracted driving becoming one of the more common causes of accidents.

Not only are drivers now concerned about texting, Facebook, and everything else, but in-vehicle infotainment systems have come to offer so many options that it can become a major point of interference while driving down the road. As the technology has progressed over the past 10 years, the problem has only increased. That, along with the increased popularity of text messaging, has led to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that nine people are killed every day — and 1,060 more are injured — as a result.

To dig even further into the details, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently published the results of a study assessing distraction within automobiles as they relate to those onboard entertainment or infotainment systems. To get an accurate picture of just how distracting these systems can be, AAA conducted a few experiments to measure levels of attentiveness when tasked with issuing a series of commands to different types of entertainment systems, including voice-recognizing programs and interactive devices like Apple’s Siri. From the study, AAA said, “each task allowed the driver to keep his or her eyes on the road and hands on the steering wheel, any impairment to driving must be caused by the diversion of attention from the task of operating the motor vehicle.”

The results? “The data extend the rating system for cognitive distraction developed by Strayer et al. (2013),” according to the study. “The new ratings suggest that some voice-based interactions in the vehicle may have unintended consequences that adversely affect traffic safety.”

Source: BMW

The ultimate goal behind the AAA’s study, along with organizations like the CDC and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is to make the roads safer. While many safety measures that have been added over the years have helped, including seat belts and airbags, the focus has now shifted to how to keep drivers’ eyes and attention on the road. While nobody argues that adding new technology like Wi-Fi and voice recognition software to vehicles makes them more comfortable, the question of whether they make the roads safer hasn’t really been answered.

When it comes to text messaging alone, we do have an answer. Texting while driving has become the leading cause of death among U.S. teenagers. So if texting on its own has led to so much death and destruction, could adding even more opportunities for distraction augment the problem? What did AAA find through its research?

“Measuring cognitive distraction has proven to be the most difficult of the three sources of distraction to assess because of the problems associated with observing what a driver’s brain (as opposed to hands or eyes) is doing,” the study concludes. “We established that there are significant impairments to driving that stem from the diversion of attention from the task of operating a motor vehicle. The data suggest that voice-based interactions in the vehicle may have unintended consequences that adversely affect traffic safety.”

There you have it: Manufacturers and technology companies have put a lot of effort into finding ways to integrate entertainment, social media, and everything else into our vehicles, and it may not be having the best effects in terms of safety. How can automakers balance the increasing call for more and more entertainment options with the detriment to safety? That’s going to be the question moving forward, and it will be interesting to see how — or even if — it is addressed. Follow Autos Cheat Sheet on Facebook