Apple CarPlay or Android Auto touchscreens in your car negatively impacts driving performance more than if you’re texting, high on cannabis or sitting at the UK’s legal blood alcohol threshold of 0.08 percent, says a new study measuring a range of driver behavior.

Commissioned by IAM RoadSmart, the UK’s largest road safety charity, the study placed 20 Apple Carplay users and 20 Android Auto users in a simulator, and had them drive a standard test route three times. The route was broken up into three sections, including car following, erratic motorway traffic, and a figure-eight loop. The first time, they drove it with no infotainment systems on as a control. The second, they were asked to perform music, radio, navigation, text and phone call tasks using voice interactions. The third, they were asked to do the same tasks using touch control.

Subjects were measured on four aspects of driving performance: maintaining a speed, lane position holding, eye gaze behavior and self-reported performance, as well as their reaction time to external non-driving stimuli, which tasked drivers with flashing their high beams when a red bar appeared on the screen.

The charity found a lot to be concerned about – which is perhaps not unsurprising for a group assembled out of pure, distilled concern, but nonetheless, here are a few of the findings.

Unsurprisingly, driver performance on all measures dropped significantly when using the touch screens. Reaction times in particular were about 53-57 percent worse than control times, where driving at the blood alcohol limit of 0.08 percent only increased this metric by 12 percent and smoking cannabis saw a 21-percent increase in reaction times. The result would be 4-5 extra car lengths of stopping distance at highway speeds.

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More surprisingly, using voice commands didn’t make things that much better, increasing reaction times by 30-36 percent, where texting while driving resulted in a 35-percent increase. It appears talking to Siri is about as bad as texting.

Drivers found it harder to maintain a constant speed and a constant distance behind the car in front or their position in a lane while using touch screens. Notably, lane position would deviate by about half a meter (1.7 ft) when using touch features.

There’s more in the full study, but by now you get the picture: touch-activated infotainment systems appear to be significantly worse than texting while driving, which itself is significantly worse than cannabis or threshold-level drink driving.

IAM RoadSmart hopes the study might lead to tighter government testing on what’s legal to fit in consumer cars.

“We’re now calling on industry and government to openly test and approve such systems and develop consistent standards that genuinely help minimize driver distraction,” said policy and research director Neil Greig.

While it’s unclear whether these devices are becoming responsible for a greater share of road trauma incidents, it doesn’t take a genius to correlate the ever-growing touch interfaces in our cars with driver distraction.

Source: IAM RoadSmart





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