When Carol Baker, a 76-year-old driver from Annapolis, Maryland, gets behind the wheel of her 2016 Buick Enclave, her phone automatically connects to the car.
She uses the Bluetooth technology to call friends and change the radio station without taking her eyes off the road. But sometimes, the system doesn’t pick up Baker’s voice right away.
“It doesn’t always understand what I’m saying,” she says. “That can be a little frustrating.”
But audio commands and touchscreens in cars are more than frustrating for older drivers — they can be downright dangerous.
Older drivers are more likely to be distracted while driving when using in-vehicle technology than their younger counterparts, according to a report released Thursday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Utah.
When performing simple tasks like programming navigation or tuning the radio, drivers between 55 to 75 took their eyes off the road an average of eight seconds longer than those age 21 to 36, the study showed.
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According to AAA, a nonprofit auto group that provides roadside assistance, taking your eyes off the road for two seconds doubles the risk of crashing. Over 3,000 people died while driving distracted in 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“Voice-command functions found in new in-vehicle technology are intended to help drivers by keeping their eyes and attention on the road,” Dr. David Yang, executive director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said. “Unfortunately, the complexity and poor design of some of these systems could cause more harm for older drivers.”
By 2030, one in five drivers on the road will be over 65 years old, according to AAA.
What’s “in-vehicle technology”?
An in-vehicle information system (IVIS) is the collection of features in a vehicle that allows drivers to complete tasks unrelated to driving while operating the car or truck, according to the AAA report.These systems include voice command options, a screen located in the middle of the dashboard or a rotary wheel in the center console.
During the study, 128 drivers navigated in-vehicle information systems of six 2018 vehicles, including Audi, Cadillac, Lincoln, Mazda, Nissan and Volvo models. Participants completed tasks using IVIS while driving, including changing the radio station or song selection, calling and dialing phone numbers, texting and plotting navigation.
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Older adults took between 4.7 and 8.6 seconds longer to complete the tasks, responded more slowly to system commands and experienced visual distractions, according to the AAA report. Some operating systems have more complex designs than others, including multiple menus and voice command functions that don’t always work on the first try, which can be frustrating for older drivers.
“This is a design problem, not an age problem,” Jake Nelson, AAA director of traffic safety advocacy and research said. “Designing systems to meet the safety and comfort needs of aging drivers would benefit all of us today.”
AAA recommends drivers avoid using IVIS while on the road, unless an emergency occurs. Travelers could also practice using voice command and touch screen functions when not driving to become more comfortable with the systems, or avoid buying vehicles that require using a center console controller.
Follow USA Today reporter Rebekah Tuchscherer on Twitter @r2sure