Car touchscreens ‘worse for reaction times than drink-driving’

Tuesday, 17th March 2020, 12:01 am
Updated Tuesday, 17th March 2020, 12:05 am

In-car media and navigation screens are worse for driver reaction times than alcohol or cannabis, according to new research.

Road safety charity IAM RoadSmart has warned that drivers are taking their eyes off the road for as long as 16 seconds at a time to operate the screens - enough time to travel half a kilometre at motorway speeds.

It says that the impact of using systems such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay can make drivers’ reaction times five times worse than someone who is at the UK drink-drive limit - therefore over the Scottish limit.

Their reactions are also significantly worse than drivers who have been using cannabis and those texting on a handheld phone. The study found that the delayed reaction times at motorway speeds increased average stopping distances to between four and five car lengths.

Need for consistent standards

Commenting on the findings, Neil Greig, policy and research director at IAM RoadSmart, said: “Driver distraction is estimated to be a factor in around a third of all road collisions in Europe each year.

“While previous research indicates that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto perform better than more traditional buttons and controls, the results from this latest study raise some serious concerns about the development and use of the latest in-vehicle infotainment systems. Anything that distracts a driver’s eyes or mind from the road is bad news for road safety.

“We’re now calling on industry and government to openly test and approve such systems and develop consistent standards that genuinely help minimise driver distraction.”

During the study, which was undertaken by the Transport Research Laboratory on behalf of IAM RoadSmart, the FIA and the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund, drivers completed a series of three drives on the same simulated test route to assess the level of impact of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

On the first run, drivers did not interact with the system. On subsequent runs, drivers interacted with the system using voice control only and then using touch control only.

Both methods of control were found to significantly distract drivers, however, touchscreen control proved the more distracting of the two.

The study found that reaction times while using voice control were between 30 and 36 per cent longer, while using touch, they were between 53 and 57 per cent longer than the typical one-second reaction of an undistracted driver.

In comparison, a texting driver’s reactions were 35 per cent slower.

While many drivers realised the system was causing a distraction and modified their behaviour by, for example, slowing down, performance was still adversely affected with drivers unable to maintain a constant distance to the vehicle in front, reacting more slowly to sudden occurrences and deviating outside of their lane.

Mr Greig added: “While we would like to see a review of these systems in the future, we’d encourage owners of vehicles fitted with these systems to use them in the safest possible way, including setting everything up before starting a journey.

“Most participants in the study report they use touch rather than voice control in real world driving. As the results clearly show, this is the most distracting, so if there is a need to use the systems while on the go, voice control is a far safer method.

“Individuals driving for work are just as at risk as the general public, so we would also encourage employers to review their advice and policies in light of this research.”