New Study Finds Assistive Technology Contributes Car Accidents in Older Drivers

More states are joining Maryland are creating laws against using handheld devices in cars. In turn,  automakers are rapidly developing new hands-free technology to assist drivers with texts, calls, and navigation by using voice commands or touch screens.

Is this a good thing?  Certainly, these interactive programs in vehicles are supposed to make it easier for drivers to multitask without losing their focus on the road. However, a new study has come out that suggests these new “infotainment” systems may increase the risk of car accidents in older drivers by limiting their response time and causing distractions while driving.

The New Report

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a report this month that analyzed how vehicle technology can impact a person’s driving ability. AAA partnered with researchers from the University of Utah to conduct an experiment with two subject groups, one consisting of individuals between the ages of 21 and 36, and the other being individuals between the ages of 55 and 75. The goal of the experiment was to test the visual and cognitive demand needed to use these new assistive technologies and measure the amount of impairment caused by it. Researchers asked subjects to make calls, send texts, and adjust the radio by using the systems’ voice command or touch screen ability.

accident4-242x300The results of this research surprised many people. Regardless of the subject’s age, it was found that the assistive programs have the potential to cause significant distractions while driving.  The study found the risk especially pronounced in the older age group, who took an average of 4.7 to 8.6 seconds longer to complete tasks, had a slower reaction time and became more prone to visual distractions. The cause of these impairments, however, was not the fault of the drivers themselves.

Researchers from AAA pointed to the complexity and poor design of assistive technologies as the root cause for distracted driving. Jake Nelson, the AAA director of traffic safety advocacy and research, alleged that these devices were not as user-friendly as they claimed to be. The technology implemented in cars actually required considerable cognitive and visual focus to be able to use voice command features.

Researchers noticed that voice command systems are often difficult to use and have a delayed response in completing a person’s simple tasks. For older drivers who are not privy to assistive technology, it can be even harder for them to grasp how to use the technology. With this groundbreaking research, AAA is now recommending that automakers focus on ensuring hands-free systems are developed efficiently enough to not cause any distractions to drivers while using them. They also recommended that each assistive technology should be tested prior to releasing vehicles to prevent a potentially dangerous situation on the road.

This new study is important to driver safety since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has reported that an estimated 95% of car crashes are caused by human error, with the majority of crashes being caused by a person being distracted for only a few seconds before the collision. A distraction that takes a person’s eyes off the road for more than two seconds can double the risk of getting into an accident.

The results from this study will hopefully encourage both drivers and automakers to think twice before relying on assistive technology to multitask on the road. AAA has reminded drivers to avoid any kind of distraction while driving, even if that means ignoring calls or text messages.