New tech in cars is distracting older drivers

Fancy technology in new cars may look impressive, but it could be making older drivers less safe on the roads.

According to research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, drivers between 55 and 75 took their attention off the road for an average of 4.7 to 8.6 seconds longer than drivers between 21 and 36 when performing tasks such as programming navigation or tuning the radio using in-vehicle infotainment technology.

For example, navigation entry took 31 seconds for younger drivers and 40 seconds for older drivers. Audio entertainment took 18 seconds for the younger drivers and more than 25 seconds for the older drivers.

Taking your eyes off the road for just 2 seconds doubles a driver’s risk of a crash, according to the auto club.

“Voice-command functions found in new in-vehicle technology are intended to help drivers by keeping their eyes and attention on the road,” said David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

“Unfortunately, the complexity and poor design of some of these systems could cause more harm for older drivers, in particular, instead of helping them.”

AAA partnered with researchers from the University of Utah to see the effects of using infotainment systems.

In a study involving six 2018 vehicles, participants in the younger and older age groups were required to use voice commands, touch screens and other interactive technologies while driving. The drivers had to make a call, send a text message, tune the radio or program navigation, all while driving.

A total of 128 drivers participated.

Researchers found that the technologies created potentially unsafe distractions for all drivers, though the safety risk was more significant in older people who experienced slower response times and greater visual distractions.

The auto club put the blame on complex designs, such as multiple menus and cumbersome voice command functions that made it difficult for older drivers to complete seemingly simple tasks.

“By 2030, more than one in five drivers on the road will be over the age of 65,” said John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “With seniors becoming the fastest growing demographic in the U.S., finding ways to design technology to improve their comfort and safety is critical and may hold the key to enhancing the safe use of this technology for all drivers.”

AAA recommends that when driving, you only use the infotainment systems for emergencies and that you practice voice commands and touch screen functions when not driving.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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