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Older drivers distracted 8 seconds longer by in-car tech, AAA finds

The study found complexity and poor design are contributing factors.

Older drivers tend to be distracted longer than younger drivers by in-vehicle infotainment technology, according to a new study by AAA and the University of Utah. Part of the problem, researchers say, is that more complex systems require too much of the driver's attention.

Drivers involved in the study age 55-75 tool their eyes off the road more than eight seconds longer on average than drivers age 21-36 while performing simple tasks like programming navigation or tuning the radio.

AAA says some of the built-in systems can be complex or poorly designed, contributing to the problem.

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"Some systems included multiple menus and cumbersome voice command functions that significantly reduced older drivers’ ability to easily complete seemingly simple tasks," AAA said in a statement.

Six 2018 vehicles were used in the study, all with systems rated as requiring moderate demand of the user to very high demand.

  • 2018 Audi A6 Premium – High demand
  • 2018 Cadillac CT6 – High demand
  • 2018 Lincoln Navigator – Moderate demand
  • 2018 Mazda CX-5 – Very high demand
  • 2018 Nissan Pathfinder SI – Very high demand
  • 2018 Volvo XC9 – High demand 

Here's a breakdown of different functions in the study and how long it took younger and older drivers to complete assigned tasks:

Audio entertainment

  • Younger: 18 seconds
  • Older: 25.4 seconds

Calling and dialing

  • Younger: 17.7 seconds
  • Older: 24.4 seconds

Text messaging

  • Younger: 27.7 seconds
  • Older: 33.8 seconds

Navigation entry

  • Younger: 31.4 seconds
  • Older: 40.0 seconds

“Designing in-vehicle technology that’s easier for seniors to use will improve their comfort and mobility, and may hold the key to enhancing the safe use of this technology for all drivers,” said Marie Dodds, public affairs director for AAA of Oregon and Idaho.

AAA says taking your eyes off the road for two seconds doubles the risk of a crash.

The sample size was 128 total drivers.

The survey did not look at the use of hand-held devices. Several states have passed or are considering laws to make it illegal to hold and use a phone while driving.

AAA has these tips if buying or using a car with one of these systems:

  • Avoid interacting with in-vehicle infotainment technology while driving except for legitimate emergencies.
  • Practice using the voice command and touch screen functions when not driving so you know how to use it in case of emergency.
  • Avoid vehicles that require use of a center console controller when using the infotainment system. These kinds of systems are especially distracting, and potentially dangerous.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto