New car launches along with boasting of high horsepower, sleek bodies, tire grips, high-end steering power, and whatnot, are always proud to announce the latest in infotainment systems too. But a worrying study says that this new tech may be hindering the driving efficiency rather than adding to the whole experience.

A study done by IAM Roadsmart, UK’s largest independent road safety charity, says that high-end infotainment systems like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto affect the reaction time of drivers more than driving under the influence of alcohol or cannabis. The systems changed reaction to time external stimuli, lane control, and stopping distance.

The study, done by FIA and the REES Jeffreys Road Fund on behalf of IAm Roadsmart, “found that reaction times at motorway speeds increased average stopping distances to between four and five car lengths, drivers took their eyes off the road for as long as 16 seconds (equivalent to a distance of more than 500 metres at 70 mph), while driving, and using touch control resulted in reaction times that were even worse than texting while driving.”

Neil Greig, policy and research director, IAM RoadSmart, said: “Driver distraction is estimated to be a factor in around a third of all road collisions in Europe each year.

“While previous research indicates that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto perform better than more traditional buttons and controls, the results from this latest study raise some serious concerns about the development and use of the latest in-vehicle infotainment systems. Anything that distracts a driver’s eyes or mind from the road is bad news for road safety.”

For the study, drivers did three runs on a test track to gauge the impact of the usage of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The first run was done without any infotainment distraction. In the second run, drivers interacted with the systems using voice control, and the third run was done using touch.

It was found that interacting with the systems impaired reaction times. Between the two, the touchscreen was found to be more distracting, with more reaction time needed to respond to external stimuli. During the testing, the drivers realizing that the entertainment was distracting from performance at optimal levels adjusted their driving by slowing down, but still, they were unable to maintain optimal distances between cars, strayed from their lanes, and were generally slower than needed.

Apple-CarPlay

The key findings from the report are:

– When participants engaged with either Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, the reaction time to any external stimuli went down by 50 percent.

– Use of either system via touch control caused drivers to take their eyes off the road for longer than 12 seconds.

This does not meet the guidelines set out by NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). When using voice control, all measures were within NHTSA guidelines.

– Drivers underestimated the time their eyes were off the road by over five seconds when using the touchscreen of either CarPlay or Android Auto.

Generally driving under the influence of alcohol impairs reaction time by 12 percent, cannabis use slows you down by 21 percent, handsfree phone 27 per cent. Compare this with touch screen use on Android Auto and CarPlay, which slows one down by 53 percent and 57 percent, respectively.

“Individuals driving for work are just as at risk as the general public, so we would also encourage employers to review their advice and policies in light of this research,” advised Neil Greig.

 The findings have raised concerns, and IAM RoadSmart is now calling for urgent action and adoption of certain rules and standards to minimize such distractions for drivers.

It wants the government and the industry to test such systems before giving any approval for usage.