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Radio as Distraction

Check out that report cover

Paul McLane is editor in chief of Radio World.

Radio has been so prevalent in the car for so long that our medium tends to get a waiver when discussions arise about driver distraction. But the proliferation of ever-more-powerful infotainment systems, with their massive glass displays and dozens of commands and functions, could change that.

This thought occurred to me when I saw the cover of a new report from AAA called “Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile III.” If radio professionals need any reminder of both the persistent power of our medium but also the renewed possibility of being considered a notable distraction, look at that cover.

The research examines the impact of In-Vehicle Information System interactions on drivers’ cognitive workload. This is the study that led to headlines this week like “In-car voice commands cost you 27 seconds of safety.

To be clear, the study did not make a big deal specifically about radio distraction, at least in my reading of it. It found that on a distraction scale, “activities such as listening to the radio or an audio book were not very distracting.” But later, the authors wrote that using the in-vehicle info systems to complete common tasks, specifically including voice dialing, contact calling, and radio tuning, “was associated with a significant increase in the cognitive workload of the driver compared to the single-task condition.”

I share this as a thought prompt, a lesson that we need to be aware of how radio interacts with, and is considered part of, this constantly developing ecosystem. We can expect a lot more discussion about driver distraction. Given the fight radio is already in to keep our brands and audio prominent on the dashboard, as well as discussions about enhanced graphics, data and so forth, it’s a discussion we need to keep an ear on.

Read the AAA report (PDF).