clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Could in-car technologies pose a threat to senior drivers?

A AAA-funded University of Utah study suggests new technologies in vehicle may be particularly distracting to older drivers.
A AAA-funded University of Utah study suggests new technologies in vehicle may be particularly distracting to older drivers.
Adobe Stock

SALT LAKE CITY — In-vehicle information systems are meant to minimize distractions and help drivers stay focused on the road, however a recent University of Utah study found the contrary is often true, particularly for older drivers.

"Did I just run a red light?" one participant can be heard asking the researcher in a video of the driving tests, after temporarily being distracted by the technology. Another participant is alerted by the researcher that they are veering into oncoming traffic.

The study suggests that the in-car infotainment technologies are "demanding and difficult to use, especially for older drivers" and notes that "for older drivers to fully realize the potential benefits of current and future vehicle technologies, a renewed focus on accessible design is required."

Motor vehicle accidents are one of the leading causes of unintentional death in the U.S., and research indicates 90% involve some form of driver distraction.

As part of a series of studies funded by AAA, the University of Utah's Center for the Prevention of Distracted Driving has been examining factors that might contribute to motorist distraction.

The most recent of these studies looked to identify age-related differences in the way drivers interact with in-car technologies and the levels of distraction these systems might pose.

Though conducted by the same lead researchers, the study is separate from previous research on driver alertness in the Tesla Model S that was recently cited by the University's Institutional Review Board for safety concerns.

Participants for the in-vehicle technology study were split into two age groups, younger drivers, between the ages of 21 to 36, and older drivers, between 55 to 75. Six different 2018 model vehicles were utilized for the study (Audi A6 Premium, Cadillac CT6 Premium Luxury, Lincoln Navigator Select L, Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring, Nissan Pathfinder SL and Volvo XC90 Momentum.)

Both cohorts, a total of 128 participants, were asked to use voice commands and touch screen to make a call, send a text message and program audio entertainment or navigation while driving down a straight residential road with four stop signs and two speed bumps.

A research assistant was present in the passenger seat for safety monitoring and data collection, and participants were asked to maintain the posted 25 mph speed limit and follow traffic laws.

In the video, an unidentified researcher can be heard alerting the driver of a traffic stop. "Stop sign, stop sign!" he says before the video shows the driver, who had been using the car's touch screen, brake suddenly.

The study suggests this type of distraction-caused error is often the result of overly complex in-car infotainment technology. In examining the cognitive, visual and time demands that this technology requires, the study found that "compared with younger drivers, older drivers exhibited significant increases in cognitive and visual workload."

Findings of the study showed that the older drivers took longer to complete the tasks as compared to the younger ones, thus keeping their attention from the road for a longer period of time. The study also found that navigation and texting tasks required more time than other tasks for both cohorts.

Researchers conducting the study did not respond to multiple attempts to contact them for comment, and the University of Utah's communication department noted that authors of the study were not available for comment.