Older drivers need to be especially careful when using in-car technologies. 

A report we read this week raised a few eyebrows. 

We are talking about touch screens, voice commands, navigation systems and even the car’s sound system. 

While the technologies are supposed to be designed for ease of operation while driving, it seems in many cases more problems are being created than solved. 

The study, conducted by the AAA (Auto Club) Foundation for Traffic Safety in partnership with researchers from the University of Utah, analyzed visual and cognitive demands created by the electronics in 2018 vehicles. Researchers looked at two groups: 21-36 year olds and 55-75 year olds. 

Older drivers were distracted the longest when using the in-car devices. 

A statement released by AAA said, “During the study, drivers used voice-based and touch-screen in-vehicle technology features. Both older and younger drivers were visually and mentally distracted for 17 to 40 seconds when completing tasks like programming navigation or sending a text message. The distraction was more significant among older drivers (ages 55-75), who removed their eyes and attention from the road for more than eight seconds longer than younger drivers (ages 21-36).” 

When driving, mere seconds can mean the difference between life and death. 

We agree with AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins who said, “Drivers may be lulled into a false sense of security that since they’re not using their handheld device, they are a more focused driver. AAA warns that many of these systems are so complex or poorly designed that they divert the driver’s attention away from where it should be – the road.”

Voice commands can be frustrating and turn attention away from the task of driving to see what is working or not working in response to those commands. Touch-screens can have cumbersome menus. Synthesized voice technology to “read” incoming messages can be riddled with mistakes causing the driver to look way from the road to see what was intended on the device. These are just a few examples of how technology can be doing more harm than good and actually create distracted driving. 

AAA is urging automakers to refine car systems and find designs that will better meet the needs of older adults and recommended changes include improving voice-command technology, simplifying software menus, removing complex center console controls, positioning system controls to allow drivers to keep their eyes on the road. 

While we don’t disagree with the recommendations, change is slow and sometimes you don’t know how well a redesign will work in the real world until it is already on the market. 

So, our caution is to older drivers and their families. 

Don’t think that just because you have voice or touch-screen technology that you or your loved one is operating a vehicle safely. 

You may have been a safer, less distracted driver, but you bought the new car with all the bells and whistles. 

If you are intent on using voice commands and touch-screens, practice, practice, practice before you ever put the car in gear. Know your system backward and forward. 

Finally, everyone keep your eyes on the road.

Distracted driving is a killer. 

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