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Driver Distraction Rated for Six Connected Car Systems

Tuning radio is not very distracting while longer tasks are, say researchers

Infotainment systems are not all the same — especially when it comes to limiting distracted driving.

Two studies, one from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and another from the University of Utah, purport to show all such systems are distracting to some degree. The studies rated six systems: MyFordTouch, Chevrolet MyLink, Chrysler Uconnect, Toyota Entune, Mercedes Command and Hyundai Blue Link. Most were 2013 models.

Researchers instructed participants to drive a test loop in a residential area of Salt Lake City and measured how distracting tasks were to complete using voice commands on a scale of one to five, with five being the most distracting. Chevrolet’s MyLink scored a 3.7, higher than the other infotainment systems, but lower than the 4.14 score given for Apple Siri. Apple noted the study didn’t include CarPlay or Siri Eyes Free, which are designed for in-car use.

The longer an interaction, the more mental workload involved, concluded the researchers, who said Toyota’s Entune required the least amount of time, say 20-seconds to make a call, and Chrevolet’s MyLink required the most time, with 29 seconds to make a call.

In addition to other tasks, participants were instructed to tune to both an AM and an FM radio station. Listening to the radio or an audio book were “not very distracting,” according to the researchers, scoring between a 1 and 2.

“Other activities, such as conversing with a passenger or talking on a handheld or hands-free cellphone, were associated with moderate/significant increases in cognitive distraction. Finally, there are in-vehicle activities, such as using a speech-to-text system to send and receive text or email messages, which produced a relatively high level of cognitive distraction,” scoring between three and five.

The automotive and related industries have said for awhile the center stack is currently a “wild, wild West,” we’ve reported. One of the goals of the studies was to learn more about how a driver’s brain reacts to assess cognitive distraction in the vehicle.

Researchers conclude “there are significant impairments to driving that stem from the diversion of attention from the task of operating a motor vehicle. The data suggest that voice-based interactions in the vehicle may have unintended consequences that adversely affect traffic safety.”

Lead researcher, University of Utah Neuroscientist Dr. David Strayer, said in a statement the goal is to make infotainment systems “no more distracting than listening to the radio.”

Automakers are including “connected dashboard” capabilities such as the ability to make a phone call or hear email or texts read aloud using voice commands, in addition to the traditional radio tuning capability, because of customer demand we’ve reported for years. OEMs say they’re designing their systems with safety in mind; the purpose of voice commands is to keep the drivers eyes on the road and their hands on the steering wheel.

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