US: new research shows even voice-activated infotainment system represents distraction

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According to federal regulator reports, distracted driving – for example texting while at the wheel – is to blame for one in ten US highway deaths and now a new survey goes to show that while progress has been made, it’s still not enough. The new research goes to show that even when using voice-controlled infotainment systems and the driver keeps his or hers hands on the wheel, dangerous distraction levels are still present. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, even when driving at only 25 mph (40 km/h), engaging voice command to place a phone call will shift the driver’s focus from the road by up to 27 seconds – and that would be enough to pass the length of three football fields. “The lasting effects of mental distraction pose a hidden and pervasive danger that would likely come as a surprise to most drivers,” comments Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “The results indicate that motorists could miss stop signs, pedestrians and other vehicles while the mind is readjusting to the task of driving.” According to a couple of new studies conducted by the University of Utah for the AAA, the degree of impairment varies depending on the type of infotainment systems, but even the best still shift the attention from the road for more than 15 seconds. The least distracting systems were found in the Buick LaCrosse, Toyota 4Runner and Chevrolet Equinox. At the other end of the spectrum sat models such as the Ford Taurus, Chevrolet Malibu, Chrysler 200 and Volkswagen Passat. Mazda was one of the worst performers overall, particularly in the Mazda6 sedan, with multiple steps even for the simplest of tasks – such as sifting through radio stations.