Motor vehicle collisions are one of the leading causes of injury and death in the United States. Despite ongoing advancements in vehicle safety technology, there hasn’t been a noticeable decrease in the number of car accident fatalities in this country. Last year, there were at least 40,000 roadway deaths, only a 1% decrease from 2017 (40,231 deaths). The National Safety Council contributes several factors to this alarming statistic, including the prevalence of distracted, fatigued, and intoxicated drivers.
Distracted driving is widely considered to be a national epidemic in the United States. While popular media often places the blame on teen drivers, multiple studies have concluded that adult and elderly motorists are more likely to engage in distracted driving behaviors. For example, a 2014 survey by AT&T found that 43% of teenagers and 49% of adults admitted to texting and driving.
But distractions aren’t just limited to smartphone and hands-free devices.
Last July, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Utah published a report that claims senior drivers are more likely to be distracted while driving due to advancements in in-vehicle technology. An in-vehicle information system (IVIS) allows drivers to complete tasks through voice command options while operating a motor vehicle. Some may have a screen located on the dashboard or a rotary wheel in the center console.
The study, “Age-Related Differences in the Cognitive, Visual and Temporal Demands of In-Vehicle Information Systems,” states that the prevalence of in-vehicle electronics “change the way that drivers manage their attention behind the wheel, potentially leading to increases in driver distraction.”
To complete the study, researchers evaluated 128 licensed drivers and asked them to utilize infotainment options to complete radio and navigation tasks. The eligible participants were native English speakers with normal or corrected-to-normal vision and clean driving records. Each candidate had to pass a 20-minute online defensive driving course and certification test to be considered for this project. Then, the participants were sorted into two age groups: younger drivers (ages 21-36) and senior drivers (ages 55-75).
The researchers asked drivers to complete the following tasks:
- Tune the radio and select music from a USB-connected iPad mini.
- Call designated contacts.
- Listen and reply to text messages using free dictation.
- Start and cancel navigation programs.
The results of this study proved that senior drivers are up to 8 seconds slower than millennial drivers when using in-vehicle functions. According to AAA, taking your eyes off the road for even 2 seconds doubles the risk of crashing a vehicle.
In an interview with CBS News, William Horrey of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety explained, “Drivers will shift their attention back and forth from the driving task to the in-vehicle task. If they’re taking long glances inside the cabin, that’s particularly risky.” AAA officials add that automakers need to design cars that meet the needs of aging drivers. Until then, Horrey and other safety experts recommend pulling over if in-vehicle technology gets too distracting, and that many tasks, including programming navigation, need to be completed before you start driving.
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