What is driver distraction and how serious an issue is it?

Is it time to put the brakes on in-car entertainment systems asks Geraldine Herbert

How significant a factor is driver distraction to road collisions?
Every year, almost 25,000 people lose their lives on European roads and more than 135,000 are seriously injured. It is estimated that driver distraction is likely to be a factor in 10% to 30% of all road collisions. Drivers who text are twice as likely to crash as those who have been drinking, research shows.

Do modern infotainment systems distract drivers?
Driving is a complex task and distraction comes in many forms and is generally defined as physical, visual, and auditory. Driver distraction research has for decades studied activities that compete for a driver’s attention while driving. However, while the risks of using a mobile phone while driving have been well documented there is less evidence of the potential risks of in-car infotainment systems. Research conducted in the UK by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) on behalf of road safety charity IAM Roadsmart found that drivers using Android Auto and Apple Carplay systems take their eyes off the road for long stretches of time when completing tasks and as a result controlling the car’s lane position and maintaining a consistent speed suffered significantly. The study also found that drivers failed to react more often to a stimulus on the road ahead when engaging with either system and generally underestimated the time they spent looking away from the road.

What about in-car systems that can be controlled by voice? Are they safer?
Voice control is becoming more common to control features in the car and many premium car makers including Audi and Mercedes have systems activated by saying “Hey Audi” or “Hey Mercedes”. So are systems that are voice-activated and hands-free safer? Dr. David Strayer who led a study for the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety believes they are not. His research on in-vehicle technology features in newer cars shows that both voice-based and touch-screen technology result in the driver’s hands, eyes and mind not concentrating on the road.

So what can be done?
There is also a role for car dealerships when selling cars to ensure buyers understand the benefits but also the unintended risks. Consumers too should assess infotainment screens and systems as potential safety hazards and ensure key information can be accessed without having to take their eyes off the road for too long.


Geraldine Herbert

27th September, 2023

Author: Geraldine Herbert

Motoring Editor and Columnist for the Sunday Independent and editor of wheelsforwomen. Geraldine is also a regular contributor to Good Housekeeping (UK), EuroNews and to RTÉ, Newstalk, TodayFM, BBC Radio and Vigin Media. You can follow Geraldine on Twitter at @GerHerbert1

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