AAA study finds drivers getting distracted by in-vehicle technology

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a study last fall examining the impacts of infotainment car systems on drivers.

Fran Love adores hitting the road in her 2012 Honda Accord.

“I love it. It'll probably live longer than me,” she jokes.

But there's one feature in her car that gives her pause: the GPS system.

To use it, Love has to turn the knob to individually select each letter and number to spell out her destination.

She admits, "That's the part that concerns me because if you're driving, you're just too distracted from driving safely when you're using it because you have to enter so much information."

Safety experts and researchers agree. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a study last fall examining the impacts of infotainment car systems on drivers.

With the help of University of Utah researchers, the study found using these features, from navigation, changing music and even texting using the car’s system, can physically and mentally distract the driver for more than 40 seconds.

According to cognition and neural science professor Dr. David Strayer, who’s listed as one of the authors of the study, just because it's in the car doesn't mean drivers should use it on the road.

"It's just distracting us and it's causing injuries and fatalities that are just completely unnecessary because people think 'If I can do it and the car lets me do it, it must be safe,’” he says.

It's an attitude that Love used to have, but that changed when she swerved while using the GPS.

One particularly frightening incident took place while driving home from White Swan: “I was going around a corner and doing my GPS and I almost went into the ditch. I got really close to the ditch on the right side and I had to stop and had to gather myself."

Turns out she's lucky. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,540 people died in distracted driving-related crashes in 2016.

Over the last few years, Washington State Patrol Trooper Chris Thorson says they've seen an increase of collisions from distracted driving.

He says, "We know for a fact that distracted driving is a problem in Washington state. In fact, our fatality collisions have gone up 29 percent recently because of this issue."

Strayer also says the distraction doesn't end when the device is off.

"One of the assumptions that people might make that's wrong is that ‘If I hang up the phone, I'm immediately kind of turned back to the non-distracted driving state.’ And what we're finding is that it takes a long time for that technology hangover to clear.”

Dr. Strayer says it can take up to 27 seconds. Action News tested how far a driver can travel during that time frame using the Blue Bridge has a measuring stick. When starting the clock at the beginning of the bridge’s metal arch and traveling at 55 mph, a driver heading towards Pasco from Kennewick can travel from the start of the arch to the off ramp for Lewis Street.

Now when she hits the road, Love avoids touching her GPS and sets the destination before taking off. She adds that it’s her responsibility to be a safe driver.

"If I get in an accident because I'm distracted and I get hurt, that's one thing, but if I hurt anybody else, that's a whole other story."

Strayer says one recommendation he has for drivers is to decide if they need all of the tech features before actually buying the vehicle.

To check out the study, click here.

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