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App Awareness: Onboard vehicle tech becoming a safety issue, advocates say

Toronto, Ontario — Onboard vehicle technologies come hand-in-hand with new vehicle purchases nowadays, but that doesn’t necessarily mean vehicles are becoming safer, advocates say.

In fact, CAA is soon planning to launch a public awareness campaign aimed at informing drivers of the risks of distracted driving, with a focus on infotainment systems.

“This is a major and an increasing issue,” Ian Jack, head of public affairs at the Canadian Automobile Association told the Canadian Press. “It’s becoming increasingly challenging for people to manage these things inside their vehicle.”

CAA’s campaign comes as distracted driving, which includes tasks such as eating, talking with passengers and using vehicle technology, has been a rising contributor to fatal and serious collisions.

The most recent statistics from the Traffic Injury Research Foundation show that as of 2018, distracted driving contributes to one in four fatal crashes. That’s roughly on par with impaired driving, said Robyn Robertson, chief executive of the foundation, though in distracted driving the victims are less likely to be drivers.

“Distracted driving is really even more of a concern because it’s other people who are at risk, other road users who are at risk, and more likely to be killed and injured.”

More complex infotainment systems could be contributing to the problem. Research by the University of Utah in collaboration with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that infotainment systems in the vehicles from the 2018 study often put a very high demand on drivers through a combination of visual, mental, and time demands, with some tasks taking upwards of 48 seconds. Further research found that older drivers are especially prone to potential distractions from systems.

Automakers have been working to address distraction issues, such as improvements to voice commands, but those can pose their own risks, said Robertson.

“Drivers often end up taking their eyes off the road to look at the technology and are frustrated as to why it’s not doing what they want it to do.”

Meanwhile, automakers likely feel pressure to add some features, such as larger screens and entertainment options because that’s where they see the market going, said Robertson..

Canada introduced guidelines in 2019 for limiting distractions from displays, but they’re not enforceable.

Transport Canada spokeswoman Sau Sau Liu said in a statement that the agency “encourages vehicle and electronics manufacturers to design devices that are compatible with safe driving and to follow all relevant safety guidelines and best practices.”

She said Transport Canada would continue to update guidelines as the technology evolves.

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