Newer Technology + Older Motorists = Distracted Driving Danger

By 2030, more than 1 in 5 drivers on U.S. roads will be 65 or older, according to AAA. While new in-vehicle infotainment systems with voice command and talk-to-text functionality are theoretically designed to keep driver attention on the road, that’s not necessarily the case for this growing demographic of older drivers. The complexity of these systems may actually be doing them more harm than good.

Related: 5 Tips to Help Older Motorists Plan for “Driving Retirement”

According to a study by AAA, drivers age 55-75 took their eyes off the road an average of eight seconds longer than drivers age 21-36 while using navigation functions, tuning the radio, and making calls and text messages on in-car media systems. Taking your attention from the road for just two seconds can double the risk of a crash, AAA says.

The way infotainment systems are currently designed creates a lot of visual and cognitive demand for older drivers. Clicking through multiple menus to find what you need or zeroing in on the right voice command to get the system to do what you want can create potentially dangerous distractions for drivers of all ages. However, the safety risk is more pronounced among senior drivers, whom the study showed to have the slowest response times.

Improvements to infotainment technology — like better voice command systems, simpler menus and displays positioned to help drivers keep their eyes on the road — wouldn’t just benefit the older segment of the population, but anyone who drives.

“This is a design problem, not an age problem,” said Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research at AAA. “Designing systems to meet the safety and comfort needs of aging drivers would benefit all of us today and for years to come.”

Until we see these safety-optimized systems in vehicles, AAA recommends these tips for older drivers:

  • Don’t interact with the infotainment system in your vehicle unless it’s an emergency.
  • Practice using voice command and touchscreen functions while off the road to increase your comfort level in case of an on-road emergency.
  • If you can, avoid driving cars that have a center console controller for the infotainment system, as these are particularly distracting and potentially dangerous.

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