Advertisements of all kinds of cars, pickup trucks, minivans, and SUVs bombard us every holiday season, and this year is no different.  There are the end of the year sales and the “Black Friday” bargains.  Car manufacturers are trying all sorts of ways to distinguish their models from the competition.  There’s talk of mileage and interest rates and cash back deals.  And then there’s the technology.   More and more, the on-board technology is a major factor in which product the consumer will purchase.  See, e.g., “Cars With the Best Infotainment Systems,” written by John M. Vincent and published on March 17, 2017, in US News & World Report.

Vehicle Infotainment Systems

All sorts of motor vehicles these days offer a variety of “infotainment systems” in their dashboards.  A few years back, these were luxury features in the most expensive models.  Now, vehicle infotainment systems are offered at every level of the product lines.  You would be hard pressed to find a new model being sold today that does not offer some kind of vehicle infotainment system in its dashboard.

Products Sold to Car Makers and Placed in Vehicles

These are products made by companies like Bose, Blaupunkt, and Pioneer.  They are purchased by car manufacturers like Ford, Toyota, and Kia to place inside their vehicles.  The car makers have their own names for their particular infotainment package, e.g.: Cadillac (CUE); Fiat (Blue&Me); Ford (SYNC and MyFord Touch); Kia Motors (UVO); and Toyota (Entune).

Each system offers compatibility with Bluetooth technology or smartphones.  The system itself is comprised of touchscreens, keypads, hands-free connections, audio/video (A/V), voice commands, stereo components, DVDs, HVAC control, and more.  Dashboard controls allow the driver to access not only the dashboard device, but additional components that serve passengers in the rear seats, as well as things like rear cameras.

Infotainment Systems and Drivers

These vehicle infotainment systems offer drivers and passengers all sorts of things.  Each version is unique; what Ford offers will not be identical to Toyota’s infotainment offering.  However, as a general rule across the board, all provide things like the following, easily accessed via the vehicle’s dashboard screen:

  1. Check sports scores
  2. Check traffic conditions
  3. Check weather conditions
  4. Communicate with social media
  5. Find lowest gas prices
  6. Make phone calls
  7. Monitor stock market
  8. Navigate routes (GPS)
  9. Manage music playlists
  10. Play games
  11. Play movies
  12. Play AM / FM radio
  13. Receive text messages (SMS)
  14. Search the web (via Bing, etc.)
  15. Send text messages (SMS)
  16. Stream Pandora or iHeartRadio
  17. Sync with smartphone content.

AAA Report Warns of Distracted Driving Dangers from Infotainment Systems

Last month, a new University of Utah report was released by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety regarding the latest Vehicle Infotainment Systems being offered by American car makers.  The research is disturbing.

According to the AAAFTS data, 33% of drivers use their vehicle infotainment systems while operating their motor vehicle.  And these vehicle infotainment systems tempt drivers into removing their eyes from the road for over 40 seconds at a time, particularly if they are doing something like texting or programming on the device.  This is compared to studies that show even TWO SECONDS of drivers looking elsewhere than the road ahead DOUBLES the risk of a crash. 

The 104-page report gives suggestions both to the companies that make these devices as well as the car makers that are buying them to put into their cars. AAAFTS wants new infotainment systems to function and avoid distracting the driver.  See, Strayer, David L., et al. “Visual and Cognitive Demands of Using In-Vehicle Infotainment Systems.” (2017).

Of particular concern to the researchers were the following vehicle infotainment systems, which were found to be very distracting (in the words of the report, they “generated high or very high levels of demand on drivers.”  Notably, NONE of the infotainment systems failed to distract drivers; the following are simply the list of the worst offenders (“very high”).

  1. Audi Q7 QPP
  2. Chrysler 300 C
  3. Dodge Durango GT
  4. Ford Mustang GT
  5. GMC Yukon SLT
  6. Honda Civic Touring
  7. Honda Ridgeline RTL-E
  8. Mazda3 Touring
  9. Nissan Armada SV
  10. Subaru Crosstrek Premium
  11. Tesla Model S
  12. Volvo XC60 T5 Inscription

From AAA President Marshall Doney:

“Drivers want technology that is safe and easy to use, but many of the features added to infotainment systems today have resulted in overly complex and sometimes frustrating user experiences for drivers.  AAA has met with interested auto manufacturers and suppliers to discuss our findings. We welcome the opportunity to meet with other interested parties to discuss the report’s recommendations and ways to mitigate driver distraction.  Automakers should aim to reduce distractions by designing systems that are no more visually or mentally demanding than listening to the radio or an audiobook. And drivers should avoid the temptation to engage with these technologies, especially for non-driving tasks.”

Driver Distractions Cause Fatal Accidents

Car makers and car salesmen may scoff at this report, but for those of us who deal with the aftermath of severe and fatal car crashes, the confirmation that vehicle information systems invite serious driver distractions is serious and worrisome.

Distracted driving causes motor vehicle accidents.  This cannot be disputed.  It’s been reported that 80% of all Indiana traffic accidents are caused by some form of driver distraction. 

We know that the human brain remains distracted from driving for a full 27 seconds after dialing a phone number or sending a text via voice.  This is in addition to the distraction times referenced in the AAAFTS report involving the actual time the driver is distracted during the use of the vehicle infotainment system.

For more on the dangers of distracted driving, see:

Beware the Infotainment System in Your Vehicle

Driving home from work or school today, remember this article.  Consider those operating vehicles alongside you, too.  How much are you at risk of a serious accident because of a distraction from a vehicle infotainment system?  Sadly, there will be accidents in Indiana and Illinois caused by these tempting vehicle information systems.

Drivers will take their eyes from the road to check the movie for the kids in the back seat, or to see if there’s going to be snow this weekend.  And that convenience will turn into a horror for these drivers, their loved ones, and those third parties that are victims of their distracted driving.

Demands will be made and claims will be filed against (1) the car makers and (2) the companies that are developing and selling these technology systems to the car manufacturers.  But for now, it’s clear that these corporations are happy to put profits over people, even when it’s confirmed that their infotainment systems are dangerous.

Please warn your loved ones about this danger!  Stay safe! Let’s be careful out there!








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