Dash Controls

The recent ban on texting while driving hasn’t eliminated all driver distractions. A recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that In-Vehicle Information Systems (IVIS) requiring touch screen and voice interaction are just as distracting, increasing the risk of crashes.

The features of vehicle infotainment systems have expanded, opening up more tasks accessible to motorists while driving. Many of these features are unrelated to driving and divert the eyes and attention of drivers from the road and their hands from the steering wheel, causing them to miss stop signs, pedestrians, and other vehicles.

In 2017, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, formerly known as the American Automobile Association, commissioned the University of Utah to study vehicle infotainment systems, to find the most demanding task, compare the demand required for voice commands vs touchpads, and determine whether the demand varies between makes and models.

Four types of tasks were evaluated in the study, using different modes of interaction:

  • Calling or dialing
  • Text messaging
  • Tuning the radio
  • Programming navigation

The study found navigation to be the most demanding task, taking a driver’s eyes off the road for more than 40 seconds to set and navigate the system, and suggested that drivers set the system before beginning a trip and use it only when absolutely necessary.

Depending on the available features, each vehicle offered up to three modes of interaction, including:

  • Voice commands
  • Center stack display
  • Controls in the center console

Although all methods of interacting with an infotainment system were distracting, using the touch screen and knobs and buttons built into the dashboard was less demanding than using voice commands, which was less demanding than using writing pads and dials in the center console.

Two similar studies in 2015 at the University of Utah commissioned by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that, although voice-commands resulted in lower levels of visual demand than touch commands, interaction times were longer, taking up to 27 seconds to regain full attention after issuing voice commands, the time that it takes to cover the length of three football fields traveling at 25 mph.

“The voice-command technology isn’t ready,” said Joel Cooper, a University of Utah research assistant professor of psychology and co-author of the 2015 studies. “It’s in the cars and is billed as a safe alternative to manual interactions with your car, but the voice systems simply don’t work well enough.”

“Just because these systems are in the car doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to use them while you are driving,” said University of Utah psychology professor, David Strayer, senior author of the study. “They are very distracting, very error prone and very frustrating to use. It’s better not to use them when you are driving.”

Of the 30 vehicles tested in the 2017 study, 23 vehicles generated high or very high levels of overall demand on drivers. The results of the study concluded that systems should be no more demanding than listening to the radio, and suggested that automakers use enhanced system designs to reduce the visual demand and time required to complete the features accessible to motorists while driving, and even block the ability to program navigation while driving.

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