Vehicle Technology May Increase Car Accident Risk for Older Drivers, Causing Distractions: Study

Modern technology and infotainment systems in new vehicles are often designed to operate hands-free and reduce driver distractions, but the findings of a new study suggest they may actually increase the car accident risk for older drivers, who often look away from the road due to complexity and unfamiliarity with the programs.

In a report released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety this month, researchers indicate drivers over the age of 55 years of age are often distracted by newer vehicle technology, indicating that the systems should be designed in a way to improve the safe operation by drivers of all ages.

AAA partnered with researchers from the University of Utah to test the visual and cognitive demand from infotainment systems among individuals between the ages of 21 and 36 years of age, as well as those between of 55 and 75 years of age. Participants in the study were asked to use voice command, touch screen and other interactive technologies to make a call, send a text message, tune the radio, or program the navigation system while operating the vehicle.

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According to the findings, researchers discovered complexity and poor design of the technology often creates potentially unsafe driving distractions for all drivers, with a pronounced risk for the older age group, who required a higher level of cognitive and visual demand. Participants between the age of 55 and 75 were found to take between 4.7 to 8.6 seconds longer to complete tasks, experienced slower response times and were more prone to visual distractions.

However, AAA director of traffic safety advocacy and research, Jake Nelson, pointed out that the distractions are not an age-related problem, they are a design problem, indicating that the designs place cognitive and visual demands on drivers due to cumbersome voice command features that significantly reduce older drivers’ ability to easily complete seemingly simple tasks.

Any visual impairment or distraction while driving can lead to an extremely hazardous situation, and taking your eyes off of the road for just two seconds doubles a driver’s risk of a crash, according to AAA.

Automakers have shifted efforts toward creating a more hands-free environment in vehicles since 47 states and the District of Columbia passed laws banning the use of handheld devices. However, some of those technologies are proving to be too difficult for all users to grasp.

As car infotainment systems become more advanced, with ever-evolving technologies to allow drivers to perform a variety of functions, AAA has stated it is important for automakers to ensure the act of performing these hands-free functions do not also distract drivers.

AAA is encouraging automakers to properly design and test infotainment systems to ensure they are not adding to distraction before releasing them in vehicles, and potentially creating an increased distraction risk that will lead to a car accident.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports an estimated 95% of all roadway crashes are caused by human error, with the majority being a result of only a brief distraction shortly before the collision.


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