WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. >> So what could possibly be more distracting to drivers than poking out a text message on their cellphones?
Programming the infotainment system in your vehicle, according to a study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
And, the study indicates, it’s not even close.
While old-school vehicle entertainment centers were once restricted to simple dashboard knobs and dials, those systems today include sophisticated steering-wheel audio controls, touch screens and hands-free voice control.
The study, which asked 120 drivers between the ages 21 of 36 to rate 30 different 2017 model vehicles, found distraction was either “very high” or “high” in 23 models. None of the 30 vehicles was deemed to be “low” in distraction.
Programming a vehicle’s navigation system proved to be the most confounding task, requiring drivers 40 seconds to complete, the study found. A driver going 25 mph would travel the distance of four football fields in the time it takes to enter a destination.
“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,” said Marshall Doney, AAA’s president and chief executive.
On AAA’s scale of distraction — low, moderate, high, very high — programming navigation ranked as very high in blurring visual and mental attention. That’s worse that texting while driving, which rated as a high distraction.
Luxury car owners might be most affected by complicated infotainment systems. Among those vehicles determined to place “very high” demands on the motorist were the Volvo XC60 and Tesla Model S.
The Hyundai Sonata, Ford Fusion (Titanium model), Dodge Ram and Honda Civic (Touring model) — among the nation’s best-selling vehicles — were all regarded to have entertainment systems that generated either a high or very high demand on its driver’s attention. The Toyota Camry, ranked No. 1 in car sales in 2016 according to Car and Driver magazine, had a “moderate” distraction level.
AAA said in a statement that it conducted the research to assist automakers in designing entertainment systems that improve functionality and reduce distractions for the driver.
“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,” Doney said. “And drivers should avoid the temptation to engage with these technologies, especially for nondriving tasks.”
Among the recommendations offered by AAA is to have automakers follow federal recommendations to lock out features such as text messaging, social media and navigation programming while a vehicle is in motion.
Distracted driving is blamed for an increase in fatal crashes in recent years. Crashes involving a death ballooned 8.8 percent to 3,477 in 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Association.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says the following vehicles contain infotainment systems with a “very high” level of distraction:
>> Audi Q7 QPP
>> Chrysler 300 C
>> Dodge Durango GT
>> Ford Mustang GT
>> GMC Yukon SLT
>> Honda Civic Touring
>> Honda Ridgeline RTL-E
>> Mazda3 Touring
>> Nissan Armada SV
>> Subaru Crosstrek Premium
>> Tesla Model S
>> Volvo XC60 T5 Inscription