Cars With the Most Dangerous Infotainment Systems Include Ford, GM

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Growing adoption of new technologies is part blessing and part curse for U.S. drivers. Developments like automatic lane-keeping and automatic emergency braking assistance are the blessing. Distracting infotainment systems may become the curse.

Carmakers from stalwarts like Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) and General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) to newcomers like Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) offer sophisticated in-vehicle information systems (IVIS, or infotainment) either as standard equipment or as an option. These systems can distract drivers for up to 40 seconds and increase the danger of a crash by many times. In a study conducted earlier this year, researchers noted that a two-second distraction doubles the risk of a crash.

While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has reported no data specifically on infotainment systems, the agency’s January 2017 report on U.S. motor vehicle fatalities noted that 10% of fatal crashes, 15% of injury crashes and 14% of all police-reported vehicle traffic crashes in 2016 were reported as distraction-affected crashes.

The NHTSA does not yet tease out driver distraction data related to IVIS separately, but automobile service and information organization AAA recently completed a study on the demands placed on drivers when they are using in-car infotainment systems. The research examined the added strain on a driver trying to do things like tuning the radio, controlling a music player, sending and receiving text messages, dialing a phone call, talking on the phone, and setting up a destination in the vehicle’s navigation system.

AAA’s research team concluded that these systems place extra — and in some cases very high — demands on drivers. Here’s what the researchers said:

The vast majority of the IVIS features and functions in the vehicles we evaluated were unrelated to the task of driving (or, in the case of destination entry to support navigation, could have been performed before the vehicle was in motion).  Many had cumbersome human-machine interfaces with design inconsistencies that lead to high levels of workload. In fact, many IVIS interactions were associated with high levels of cognitive and visual demand with long interaction times. …

Our research provides empirical evidence that the workload experienced by drivers systematically varied as a function of the different tasks, modes of interaction and vehicles that we evaluated. Our objective assessment suggests that many of these IVIS features are too distracting to be enabled while the vehicle is in motion.

Programming navigation while the vehicle is moving is the most distracting task, taking an average of 40 seconds to complete. Below is AAA’s list of the vehicles with the most dangerous infotainment systems. Of these vehicles, all 12 include navigation systems, and 10 allow drivers to program navigation while the vehicle is in motion, although the study does not identify the 10 vehicles. We’ve listed them alphabetically by brand and added the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) with standard options and the price of an optional navigation system or package.

2017 Audi Q7 3.0T Premium Plus
> MSRP: $60,450
> Navigation system: Standard

2017 Chrysler 300 C
> MSRP: $39,730
> Navigation system: Standard

2017 Dodge Durango GT
> MSRP: $38,590
> Navigation system: $1,495 on base model; standard with premium group

2017 Ford Mustang GT Premium Convertible
> MSRP: $43,595
> Navigation system: $795

2017 GMC Yukon SLT
> MSRP: $58,510
> Navigation system: $2,880

2017 Honda Civic Touring
> MSRP: $27,475
> Navigation system: n/a

2017 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E
> MSRP: $42,410
> Navigation system: Standard

2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited
> MSRP: $39,090
> Navigations system: $1,295 w/o Luxury group option

2017 Nissan Armada SV
> MSRP: $46,195
> Navigation system: Standard

2017 Nissan Maxima SV
> MSRP: $46,195
> Navigation system: Standard

2017 Tesla Model S 75
> MSRP: $75,700
> Navigation system: Standard

2017 Volvo XC60 T5 Inscription
> MSRP: $41,945
> Navigation system: Standard

AAA researchers found that most infotainment systems could easily be made safer by following federal safety recommendations such as locking text messaging, social media access and navigation programming while a vehicle is in motion. Seems simple enough, but unless regulators force the issue, don’t expect carmakers voluntarily to change.