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Study: Motorists using Apple CarPlay are more distracted than drunk drivers

Driving while impaired is often vilified as the most dangerous thing to do on four wheels, but a recent study suggests using infotainment software like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay reduces a driver’s reaction time more than booze or pot. United Kingdom-based road safety advocate group IAM RoadSmart wants the government to take action.

The group pointed out the average driver’s reaction time is about a second; that means when the car in front slams on its brakes, it’s going to take a full second for the person following it to do the same. That figure increases by 12% when someone takes the wheel after reaching the legal alcohol limit, and by 21% when a person drives after smoking or eating cannabis. Using Android Auto and Apple CarPlay increased the reaction time by 53% and 57%, respectively.

Researchers discovered motorists who incessantly poke their car’s touchscreen to access a feature buried deep in either software increase their car’s stopping distance by between four and five car lengths, and they can take their eyes off the road for up to 16 seconds at a time without realizing it.

“Participants underestimated by as much as five seconds the time they thought they spent looking away from the road when engaging with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay via touch control,” the study alarmingly found. It added using voice instead of touch commands significantly reduced distractions, but not to acceptable levels; reaction times nonetheless increased by 30% and 36% for Google and Apple’s software, respectively. To add context, talking on the phone increases reaction times by 46%.

Distracted driving graph
IAM RoadSmart

The results are startling, especially if you regularly bike, run, or walk on a public road. Researchers conducting the study witnessed drivers swerve out of their lane by up to 21 inches while trying to use Android Auto’s navigation function. Those performing the same task using Apple CarPlay moved out of their lane by up to 20 inches.

“We’re now calling on industry and government to openly test and approve such systems and develop consistent standards that genuinely help minimize driver distraction,” IAM RoadSmart concluded. The British government hasn’t commented on the study, though, to be fair, it’s juggling Brexit negotiations and a global pandemic.

British firm research firm TRL conducted the study on behalf of IAM RoadSmart, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (which organizes the 24 Hours of Le Mans, among other events), and the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund. It asked participants to drive the same simulated test loop three times: once without using either system, once while using only voice commands, and once while using only the touchscreen.

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Ronan Glon
Ronan Glon is an American automotive and tech journalist based in southern France. As a long-time contributor to Digital…
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