12 Vehicle Infotainment Systems That Distract Drivers

A study by AAA and the University of Utah show that on-board infotainment systems often create unnecessary visual and cognitive demands on drivers.
  • It’s no surprise to learn that infotainment systems cause driver distraction, but recent news from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety showed that the problem may be worse than we thought.

    A study released by the organization showed that the majority of today’s infotainment technologies are complex, frustrating, and maybe even dangerous to use. Working with researchers from the University of Utah, AAA analyzed the systems in 30 vehicles, rating them on how much visual and cognitive demand they placed on drivers. The conclusion: None of the 30 produced low demand. Twenty-three of the systems generated “high” or “very high” demand.  

    “Removing eyes from the road for just two seconds doubles the risk for a crash,” AAA wrote in a press release. “With one in three adults using infotainment systems while driving, AAA cautions that using these technologies while behind the wheel can have dangerous consequences.”

    In the study, University of Utah researchers examined visual (eyes-on-the-road) and cognitive (mental) demands of each system, and looked at the time required to complete tasks. Tasks included the use of voice commands and touch screens to make calls, send texts, tune the radio and program navigation. And the results were uniformly disappointing.

    On the following pages, we offer a peek at the 12 vehicles categorized by researchers as having “very high demand” infotainment systems. The vehicles vary from entry-level to luxury and sedan to SUV, but they all share one common trait: AAA says their infotainment systems distract drivers.  


  • Researchers said the Chrysler 300C’s Uconnect infotainment system failed on several fronts. Its navigation was impaired by “excessive” task times requiring multiple steps on the part of the driver. Its touch screen menu was also “poorly organized,” researchers said.

    Finally, sending of texts was time-consuming (average 43 seconds), and, worse, the touch screen did not restrict access to calling and dialing while the vehicle was in motion.

    (Image source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

  • AAA concluded that Nissan Armada SV’s infotainment system required “very high demand” on the part of the driver. Worst of all was the navigation system. Searching for navigation destinations was lengthy, whether the driver used the center stack or voice commands. Phone calls were also unnecessarily difficult.

    Calls could be made in 13 seconds on the vehicle’s center stack, but that required high cognitive (mental) and visual (eyes-off-the road) demand. The Armada did offer voice calling, but placing a call via voice took 27 seconds on average, “possibly due to the poor accuracy of the system that forces users to correct mistakes or start over,” AAA said.

    (Image source: Nissan Motor Co.)

  • Researchers found multiple problems with the infotainment system on the Audi Q7 PP. The worst of those was its unrestricted access – drivers could hunt for destinations and input addresses while the car was moving.

    But there were others: The center console was “error prone and difficult to use” and organization of menus was “confusing and difficult to learn.”

    In general, all aspects of the Q7’s infotainment caused high levels of mental demand for long periods of time, they said.

    (Image source: Audi AG)

  • The GMC Yukon SLT’s infotainment unit had two glaring problems: Programming was difficult and texting proved too demanding.

    AAA researchers found that texting required an average time of 30 seconds, taking the driver’s eyes off the road and creating high cognitive demand. The Yukon’s navigation system was even worse, taking 61 seconds on average.

    (Image source: GMC)

  • The infotainment system on the Mustang GT placed high visual and cognitive demands on drivers in the AAA study. Using voice commands for text messaging took 34 seconds on average, while navigation searches required 55 seconds.

    Also, the dial pad and full phone book were accessible via the touch screen while the vehicle was moving.

    (Image source: Ford Motor Co.)

  • Researchers found that HondaLink Infotainment System on the Civic Sedan Touring placed high demands on drivers during phone calls, text messaging, audio entertainment, and navigation. The voice accepted only a rigid set of audio commands, and even then, misunderstood them and processed them slowly.

    The sedan’s Garmin navigation system, meanwhile, responded to a different set of commands than the HondaLink system, creating confusion among users.

    (Image source: Honda Motor Co. Ltd.)

  • Researchers dinged the Tesla Model S for a number of reasons, among them the fact that drivers could search the Internet while the car was in motion.

    Also, the use of voice commands to make a phone call took longer than recommended (31 seconds on average).

    Finally, researchers thought the Tesla’s big touch screen displayed too much information, making it difficult for drivers to search the audio and radio sub-menus.

    (Image source: Tesla, Inc.)

  • The Mazda3 Touring sedan suffered from the increasingly common problem of too much complexity.

    Users of the Mazda Connect infotainment system were not able to efficiently use the center console to place phone calls.

    Also, the seemingly-simple task of adjusting the audio turned into a scavenger hunt, engaging drivers for long periods of time.

    (Image source: Mazda Motor Corp.)

  • The Dodge Durango GT’s UConnect 8.4 NAV infotainment system fell short on phone calls, text messaging, audio entertainment, and navigation.

    Text messaging was highly visual, requiring drivers to take their eyes off the road for long periods. Similarly, searching through the phone book placed high cognitive and visual demands on drivers.

    The Durango’s center stack navigation was also said to be overly complex and confusing.

    (Image source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

  • The Honda Ridgeline RTL-E’s big weakness was its turn-by-turn navigation.

    “Not only did navigation via the touch screen require very high amounts of both visual (eyes-off-the-road) and cognitive (mental) demand, it required 45 seconds to complete on average,” AAA wrote.

    What’s more, researchers found the menu to be complex, saying that it contained too many ambiguous categories. Researchers also complained that cognitive demand was too high, not only for navigation, but for placing calls and adjusting audio, as well.

    (Image source: Honda Motor Co. Ltd.)

  • Voice commands were the downfall of the Subaru Crosstrek 2.01 Premium.

    Researchers said the voice command system not only suffered from poor interpretation accuracy, it had slow processing times, as well. As a result, call placement required long user interaction.

    “In its current state, drivers may become frustrated by the system’s non-intuitive and time-consuming processes, especially when using voice commands,” the researchers wrote. They also found the audio entertainment system’s buttons to be confusing.

    (Image source: Subaru Corp.)

  • The Volvo XC60 T5’s infotainment system showed weaknesses on phone calls, text messaging, and navigation.

    “Using the rotary wheel and buttons on the center stack results in a lengthy process when accessing any function,” AAA wrote.

    The voice recognition system also failed to comprehend many of the commands and the center stack was cluttered and difficult to use, the researchers said.

    Worse, drivers were free to operate most of the system while the vehicle was in motion.

    (Image source: Volvo Group)  



Also see:

2018 BMWs Will Bring Amazon Alexa on the Road

GM to Produce 20 New Electric Cars by 2023

10 Up-and-Coming Hybrids for 2018



Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 33 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.



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