The bright touchscreens and other technology being squeezed into the dashboards of new cars certainly look cool, but scientists have found that it also takes drivers’ eyes off the road for dangerously long periods of time.
Researchers at the University of Utah stepped into over 30 new cars to measure how much time a driver spends looking at their screens, not the road. They completed the study in partnership with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, and found that even common touchscreen tasks distracted drivers for more than 24 seconds.
For reference, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles the risk of a crash. The worst culprits were navigation tasks, which distracted drivers for up to 40 seconds.
“This is troublesome because motorists may assume that features that are enabled when they are driving are safe and easy to use,” said David Strayer, a cognitive and neural scientist at the University of Utah, in a statement.
To conduct the study, Strayer and his team of researchers sat in the passenger seat as the study’s participants drove them around Salt Lake City, Utah. They asked the driver to engage in common tasks, like calling friends, while they measured their visual and cognitive distraction.
As shown in the video below, at some points during the testing, researchers had to yell “stop sign!” at distracted drivers.
And the problem isn’t just with touch screens.
“Technology in the car has really exploded in the last few years,” says Strayer. “Steering wheels that have 19 multi-function buttons. We have made what were relatively simple tasks really complex. We’ve really gone in the wrong direction in terms of some of the technology.”
Strayer recognizes that it will be difficult to challenge the tide of touchscreens and features manufacturers are putting in cars, but wants this research to benefit people shopping for cars.
“So what we hope is that our research will be used by consumers to help make a good decision about what vehicles and what technology in the vehicles is best for them,” he said. We just wish those new touchscreen consoles weren’t so much fun to use.